‘Deliberation Day’ would star politics



Yale Law professor Bruce Ackerman and Stanford communication professor James Fishkin ’70 GRAD ’75 have come up with an idea for a new national holiday — “Deliberation Day.”

The idea, based on 25 “deliberative polls” Fishkin has conducted since 1988, is to designate a day in October as a holiday when Americans would meet to discuss and mull over important political issues before elections.

Ackerman said a national Deliberation Day would enhance Americans’ understanding of issues, thereby helping them to look beyond media sound-bytes and make more thoughtful decisions.

“Informed citizens, through Deliberation Day, will really change campaigning in a way more respecting of America’s citizens,” Ackerman said.

Fishkin’s deliberative polls have involved bringing random samples of the public together for one to three days to discuss issues of concern. His polls have demonstrated that by the end of this period, his subjects had a much greater understanding of the issues at hand and often changed their opinion on how issues should be approached.

“One day can lead to significant change,” Fishkin said. “It’s a democracy of people who think, and become seriously involved in the issues.”

Yale Political Science lecturer Cynthia Farrar, who has worked with Fishkin on his deliberative polls for a number of years, said she has helped to apply the research to New Haven and the surrounding region.

“I’m at the local level trying to create an expectation for informed democracy,” she said.

Farrar also said she also worked to plan “citizen deliberations” in ten American cities in January, where participants discussed America’s role in the world.

Ackerman and Fishkin propose to pay citizens $150 each to participate in the Deliberation Day events.

Ethan Leib ’97 LAW ’03 GRD ’04, who said he worked for a few months on Ackerman and Fishkin’s project as a research assistant, said a Deliberation Day would have “benefits,” but he said he preferred a separate model he invented. Leib said the voluntary aspect of Ackerman and Fishkin’s idea did not appeal to him.

“For me, I think mandatory service is absolutely essential,” Leib said.

Leib said his model, which proposes adding a fourth branch to the federal government to serve as a popular voice — analogous to the referendum and ballot initiative measures in some states — would “re-envision the separation of powers.”

Ackerman said the idea for Deliberation Day was feasible.

“It’s a new idea, we’ll see,” he said. “From the point of view of costs and benefits, the costs are very modest.”

Fishkin said given sufficient “political will,” the proposal could be implemented.

“Democratic institutions are not scratched in stone, as [the Federalist number one] says, they’re the subject of reflection and choice,” Fishkin said.

Ackerman and Fishkin will fully explain their proposal in their book “Deliberation Day,” which will be first published in March by Yale University Press.

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