People in “increasingly autocratic” regimes show confidence in “democracy” in their countries

The Centre for the Future of Democracy is based at Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge aims “to explore the challenges and opportunities faced by democratic politics over the coming century”. Back in January, the Centre has published a report [PDF] titled “Global Satisfaction with Democracy 2020”. The report is based on what seems like a very useful data set created by combining multiple survey data sources comprising 3,500 surveys from many countries around the world over the years 1973 to 2020 asking citizens whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with democracy in their countries.

The key findings are not surprising:

Across the globe, democracy is in a state of malaise. In the mid-1990s, a majority of citizens in countries for which we have time-series data – in North America, Latin America,Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia – were satisfied with the performance of their democracies. Since then, the share of individuals who are “dissatisfied” with democracy has risen by around +10% points, from 47.9 to 57.5%.

This is the highest level of global dissatisfaction since the start of the series in 1995. After a large increase in civic dissatisfaction in the prior decade, 2019 represents the highest level of democratic discontent on record.The rise in democratic dissatisfaction has been especially sharp since 2005. The year that marks the beginning of the so-called “global democratic recession” is also the high point for global satisfaction with democracy, with just 38.7% of citizens dissatisfied in that year. Since then, the proportion of “dissatisfied” citizens has risen by almost one-fifth of the population (+18.8%).
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The French Assembly votes to allow the CESE to convene allotted citizen bodies

Following up on Macron’s commitment to reform the CESE (Conseil économique, social et environnemental) as part of a drive toward “participative democracy”, the Assembly has voted for a law making several changes to the CESE. One of the changes is allowing the CESE to convene allotted consultative citizen bodies, modeled after the recent Citizen Climate Convention.

The conservative Républicains party voted for the reform but was displeased by the idea of using allotted bodies: “Sortition does not guarantee competence” and does not guarantee representativity either, said Julien Aubert, one of their MPs.

Martin: convert the Upper House to one based on sortition

Peter Martin, a reader of the Adelaide, SA, Australia newspaper InDaily, wrote to share his thoughts after reading an article complaining about the going-ons in the SA Upper House:

Commenting on the opinion piece: Richardson: The House where democracy goes to sleep

An interesting account, but not really surprising.

Why doesn’t SA lead the nation (again) in social and political reform and convert the Upper House to one based on sortition – ie members are selected for short terms via random ballot from the electoral list, just as juries are chosen for our legal system.

We know juries work well, and that the task is taken very seriously by all citizens. People would be paid for their time, and could receive ample expert support in their deliberations.

Such a change would end the need for politicians in the Upper House, make political parties and lobbying redundant. – Peter Martin

Jacquet, Niessen and Reuchamps: Sortition, its advocates and its critics

A new paper (full text) in International Political Science Review by Belgian academics Vincent Jacquet, Christoph Niessen and Min Reuchamps titled “Sortition, its advocates and its critics: An empirical analysis of citizens’ and MPs’ support for random selection as a democratic reform proposal” is a useful survey-based study comparing the attitudes of Belgian citizens towards sortition to those of Belgian MPs. As may be expected, and as can be seen in the figure above, MPs are much more reluctant than citizens to hand off power to allotted bodies.

Abstract: This article explores the prospects of an increasingly debated democratic reform: assigning political offices by lot. While this idea is advocated by political theorists and politicians in favour of participatory and deliberative democracy, the article investigates the extent to which citizens and MPs actually endorse different variants of ‘sortition’. We test for differences among respondents’ social status, disaffection with elections and political ideology. Our findings suggest that MPs are largely opposed to sortitioning political offices when their decision-making power is more than consultative, although leftist MPs tend to be in favour of mixed assemblies (involving elected and sortitioned members). Among citizens, random selection seems to appeal above all to disaffected individuals with a lower social status. The article ends with a discussion of the political prospects of sortition being introduced as a democratic reform.

Cirone: Lotteries in Political Selection

A 2019 paper by Alexandra Cirone, Assistant Professor of Government at Cornell University, is titled “When democracy is broken roll the dice: Lotteries in political selection”.

There is a long tradition in political science and law that analyzes the benefits of lotteries in political selection (Manin 1997; Elster 1989; Engelstad 1989; Dowlen 2009; Duxbury 1999; Ober 1993 among many others). Most readers will be familiar with selection by lottery – also called sortition – where individuals are randomly chosen for political office.

The element of chance in a lottery has always captured our imaginations. Yet from a policy perspective, lotteries are now being proposed in various forms to address democratic deficits. Lottery-based selection of high-ranking politicians have been suggested for the national parliaments of the UK and France, as well as for the supranational institutions of the European Union. Citizens assemblies have been implemented in a wide range of countries, at both the local and national levels (Fishkin 2011).

However, lottery-based political selection is no panacea. There are a number of shortcomings to these processes. First, no matter which selection rule, it is likely that elites can still be disproportionately involved in politics, and lotteries don’t insulate all democratic institutions from partisan or corrupt pressures. Second, politics benefits from investment in expertise and career politicians; the uncertainty inherent in random selection of permanent institutions could disincentivize potential candidates from acquiring skills or experience. Alternatively, problems with recruitment and attrition from selected citizens will always be an issue with lottery-based selection; and randomly chosen officials might lack democratic legitimacy, which could impair their ability to do their job well. Third, even implementing lotteries in the form of temporary citizens assemblies require time, resources, and careful design of the process. Lotteries are also difficult to endogenously implement, particularly at top levels of governance — political parties and other groups are too invested in current systems of selection, so it is unlikely we will see a return to the pure sortition of ancient times.

Still, there is distinct promise to the use of lotteries in political selection, to help include more citizens in the democratic process. By examining unique institutional experimentation in the past, and by adapting democratic initiatives based on more recent instances of lottery-based selection, it may be possible to alleviate current democratic shortcomings.

Replacing elections with lotteries on The Daily Show

Malcolm Gladwell, who recently had an episode on his podcast devoted to sortition, was interviewed yesterday on The Daily Show and for a few seconds in the beginning of the segment the topic of replacing elections with lotteries was “discussed” (for some definition of this term). It is really a shame that this was not tied to the topics mentioned during the rest of the segment: policing and struggles for democratization of society in the present and in the past.

The Morning Star: An allotted assembly could not address the climate crisis

The British socialist newspaper The Morning Star has published an editorial in which it criticizes XR’s “non-ideological” stance and XR’s demands for an allotted climate assembly. The background for the editorial is a recent tweet by XR:

Just to be clear we are not a socialist movement. We do not trust any single ideology, we trust the people, chosen by sortition (like jury service) to find the best future for us all through a #CitizensAssembly A banner saying ‘socialism or extinction’ does not represent us 🙏🏽🙏 [@XRebellionUK, 4:56 PM · Sep 1, 2020]

This tweet has apparently been issued in response to a photo showing participants in an XR protest carrying the said “socialism or extinction” banner.

The Morning Star editorializes:

The proposal of a citizen’s assembly selected by sortition, frequently made by XR, is linked to its claim to be non-ideological.

But the problem with the assumption that such an assembly could address the climate crisis is the same as that of XR’s whole tweet: it wilfully ignores the central role of the capitalist system in driving climate chaos.

Appeals to parliaments and presidents to “do something” about climate change will fail if they treat such decision-makers as neutral actors rather than instruments of class power.

Will blames everybody

George Will writes in the Washington Post about the troubles democracy is having. It seems everybody is to blame: the people and their unrealistic expectations of self-rule fed by careless descriptions of democracy, the French revolutionaries and their nationalistic “fraternité”, the former captive nations of the former Eastern Bloc that are illiberal, U.S. universities, new media, right-wing and left-wing extremists, protesters and their assertions that the U.S. was founded upon genocide and slavery, the infantile panic of liberal Democrats, elections themselves that produced a floundering elite.

Aristotle told us (or at least told Harvard political philosopher Harvey Mansfield) that elections are aristocratic and aim to produce the rule of the best. That seems hard to believe. Maybe selection by lot should be considered?

Wang Shaoguang: Representative and Representational Democracy, Part 3/3

Part one, part two.

Wang’s skeptical evaluation of the Western conception of democracy and of the arguments for elections as a democratic tool are in fact merely a segue to his main topic which is the “Mass Line”. According to Wang, the Mass Line is the basis for decision making by the Chinese system of government. Wang describes the Mass Line as an ongoing process by which decision makers interact with the population in order to become informed and shape public policy. Wang quotes Mao Zedong as follows:

In every aspect of my party’s practical work, if leadership is to be correct it must come from the masses and go to the masses. This is to say, we must collect the views of the masses (disparate and un-systematic views) and, through study, turn them into collective and systematic views, and then we must go back to the masses to disseminate and explain them, turning them into the masses’ own views, enabling the masses to persevere, and to see these views implemented in practice. From the practice of the masses we must conduct examinations to determine whether these views are correct. We then must once again collect the views of the masses, and once again go back to the masses and persevere. This endless cycle will each time be more correct than the last, richer and more vivid than the last. This is the epistemology of Marxism.

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Citizens allotted for drawing electoral districts in Michigan

Back in January it was reported that Michigan has sent out invitations to voters to apply to serve on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. 13 citizens have now been selected to serve on the commission “charged with drawing new district lines for members of the state House and Senate”.

The commission is being assembled as a result of a November 2018 ballot proposal, Proposal 2 which passed with support from 61% of voters. Redistricting was previously handled by the Michigan legislature and approved by the governor, which, Proposal 2 supporters pointed out, allowed politicians to set their own district lines.

Despite the rather limited purview of the commission, it has two important characteristics that set it as an independent source of political power and thus lend it importance. First, the body was constituted through a ballot measure. Thus it was legitimated and mandated directly by the citizens. Second, the body’s function is to supervise, and indeed to limit the power of, the elected officials.

Information about the allotment is available on the state government website. Some of the skews in the applications demographics are quite interesting.