Significant support in European countries for citizen assemblies as a complement to parliament

A recent poll finds (p. 129 and on) that the public in France, Germany, the UK and Italy is generally supportive of using allotted bodies to discuss and form opinions regarding various matters, with two thirds of those polled supporting using such bodies to address national-level issues.

Most surprising is the finding that about 30% of those polled support having such bodies used systematically to complement the work of parliament. The fact that there is widespread support for establishing a political power which is independent of the elected bodies is most extraordinary since there is no precedent for such an institution in modern times and since there has been no significant advocacy for such an idea by any established political power.

In addition, a large majority of the citizen polled believes that the decisions made by the allotted bodies should be binding: 55% supporting, 23% undecided, and only 15% objecting.

(Thanks to André Sauzeau for pointing out this poll.)

19 Responses

  1. No doubt if I claim that raw public opinion polls are of little interest (to anyone other than politicians chasing votes) I’ll be accused of elitism.

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  2. I wouldn’t accuse you of elitism.

    But I’m not sure of what your point is.

    If you want something to happen in a democracy, the more who agree with you the better.

    So I find the news heartening.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. My point is the claims on this blog that democracy is synonymous with public opinion. To my mind the people having power involves a bit more than ticking a box on an opinion poll. Fishkin’s Deliberative Opinion Poll is an entirely different matter and could well provide a template for the people having power. But I don’t see why we should be any more interested in public opinion polls than the voting on Pop Idol or Love Island.

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  4. Because, for all their inadequacies, there’s a correlation between how they answer those opinion polls and who they vote for and what they’ll support.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Agreed — on policy matters of high salience to voters, and when the political parties have provided some reasons for putting forward their proposals or there has been widespread public debate on the topic. Otherwise the opinions garnered are little more than motherhood and apple pie.

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  6. Worthy of note is that France’s 55% of respondents in favour of citizens’ assemblies’ recommendations being binding is actually the lowest of the four countries polled, with 62% of English, 65% of Germans, and 71%(!) of Italians agreeing.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. In another forum I just posted a comment about the irony of using a survey asking relatively un-informed people about the legitimacy of having a representative sample of well-informed people making decisions. Yet, that is ALWAYS where we are at on the topic of legitimacy…. people have off-the-cuff, gut feelings about legitimacy. That’s what legitimacy essentially IS. While I would prefer a system that allowed well-informed representative sample make constitutional changes, in the here and now, the un-informed opinions of people are in the driver’s seat.

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  8. To be clear about my last sentence about the driver’s seat… people being in control (even if un-informed) is the BEST possibility in the current system, but I am not disputing the observation that neither the well-informed representative group of people, nor the mass of un-informed people are actually in the driver’s seat, since there are special interests, wealth, and a political class that outweigh either of these “people” drivers.

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  9. On some level, legitimacy will always be about the opinion of the relatively uninformed majority. Every system of constitutional reform, however wisely-constituted, is reliant on the public trust for its effectiveness.

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  10. > Every system of constitutional reform, however wisely-constituted, is reliant on the public trust for its effectiveness.

    Indeed, “wisely constituted” can only mean “wisely constituted as perceived by the public”.

    Thus: democracy is “government for the people, as judged by the people”.

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  11. Page 89 shows a clearly declining trend on how the meaningfulness of every possible avenue for political participation is being perceived.

    This people will soon be ready for sortition.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. *** Notwithstanding observations by Keith Sutherland, raw reactions are interesting data, even if we have no knowledge of the resilience of these opinions through public debate.
    These data indicate that an important fraction of the citizens, who are attracted to the idea of binding implementation of citizen conventions recommendations, are therefore not solid supporters of the representative idea.
    *** We must consider likewise the fraction of citizens who ask the recommendations to be brought to referendum vote (no data here). They likewise are not supporters of the representative idea. They may be people who are afraid of tricks, of not representative conventions, of manipulation of the convention information or debate. This fraction is maybe more important in countries like France with a low trust in anything official.
    *** Adding the two fractions, we may think that only a minority of citizens are solid supporters of the representative idea.
    *** Ok, Keith is right, after there has been widespread public debate on the topic, and political parties have provided reasons to this debate, maybe the polyarchic elites would be able to gather their flock under the banner of “representative democracy”. But I think the raw data are interesting about the lack of spontaneous support for the representative idea – which has been in France the official political dogma since 1848.
    *** Keith Sutherland says “raw public opinion polls are of little interest (to anyone other than politicians chasing votes)”. Well, in France, where Macron’s Convention was not something at the periphery of the stage, the political parties were very cautious about it; it seems many politicians, even if they did not like it really, did not dare to oppose it.

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  13. Yoram:> ‘Indeed, “wisely constituted” can only mean “wisely constituted as perceived by the public”.’

    And when a member of the public asks themselves, ‘is this wisely constituted?’ are they supposed to refer to an opinion poll of the rest of the public to find out?

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  14. Each member of the public forms their own opinion based on their own considerations, but it is the aggregate opinion that matters.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. So to members of the public, ‘wisely constituted’ means whatever they think it should, but to us enlightened sages (who are, I suppose, not members of the public, but outside and above it) it means the aggregate of all of *their* opinions?

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  16. We, as members of the public, get to have our own opinions, based on our personal values and our subjective experiences, about the merits of the regime within which we live. We, as scientists or objective observers, determine the nature a regime based on well defined, objectively measurable properties which do not depend on our personal likes and dislikes and general intangible sentiments as observers. (Yes, as citizens, our personal opinions do have a tiny impact on those measurable properties.) That’s science, no?

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  17. That’s not science but a cargo-cult imitation of it. The scientific value of a particular measurement comes not from its being well-defined or objective, but from its usefulness as an indicator of what’s going on more generally. That’s where the measurement gets its significance, too: the physicist uses a voltmeter (for example) not because she’s interested in the measure it gives for its own sake but because of the what its readings imply. If she judges that more can be learned from subjective and qualitative assessment, she will use that instead.

    If the perspective of the ‘scientist’ or ‘objective observer’ of political regimes simply involves looking at opinion polls and concurring with the majority revealed therein, what use is it? What insight does it provide? What guidance can it possibly give? It is divorced from the reason real scientists do real science – the need to understand.

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  18. > What insight does it provide? What guidance can it possibly give?

    These questions betray quite a lot.

    For those who are ready to let go of their ethnocentric, anti-scientific dogma, the opinion polls are merely the starting point. If the scientists can now understand what it is that makes some systems more democratic than others, then they can actually devise ways to democratize societies. Seems pretty useful.

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  19. Yoram: We, as scientists or objective observers, determine the nature [of] a regime based on well defined, objectively measurable properties

    What are these properties? To Aristotle it was a definitional issue, an understanding of what words mean. More specifically it was who had power, or who ruled — the one, the few, the rich, the poor, the “best” etc. Once we understand the meaning of words, I agree that it’s possible to measure the degree to which (for example) the people have power. But opinion polling on hypothetical issues (approval of the use of “allotted bodies” with an unspecified constitution and mandate) tells us nothing at all about who has power or, more importantly, who would have power if such bodies came into existence. Remember that the ratification of the US Constitution led to (factional) consequences that none of the Convention delegates foresaw or intended — and they were (for the most part) well schooled in political theory and practice. (Remember also that nobody on this forum agrees with your eccentric definition of democracy [any political system in which the people have confidence that policy outcomes reflect their interests]).

    Liked by 2 people

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