Citizens to voice concerns in PBS event



In a return to the basic tenets of democracy, New Haven citizens will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on national issues Oct. 16 as part of PBS Deliberation Day.

PBS Deliberation Day — sponsored by “By the People,” an initiative of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions — is part of a national program focusing on the opinions of a randomly selected sample of people in 17 cities across the country. This program tries to gauge public opinion more accurately by asking approximately 100 voters to express their views on key policy issues.

Yale political science professor Cynthia Farrar is the director of Urban Academic Initiatives and coordinator of the “By the People” Citizen Deliberations. Farrar said she sees Deliberation Day as an opportunity to discuss a range of policy viewpoints in the upcoming presidential race.

“A deliberative poll gives people a chance to engage with people of different perspectives,” Farrar said.

The program sites were selected to obtain a representative sample, Gail Leftwich, executive director of “By the People,” said.

“[We were] looking for good diversity, [with an] eye on swing states,” she said.

The local impetus for Deliberation Day derives from Americans for Informed Democracy, a group co-founded in 2002 by Seth Green LAW ’06. The New Haven event will focus primarily on the topics of jobs and national security.

“[We] started this in [an] effort to get both sides in dialogue, to establish common ground,” Green said.

Green said he founded the group after Sept. 11, 2001, with the hope of initiating constructive exchanges of ideas focused on shared beliefs in an age of increasing distrust of the United States.

The deliberative poll method employed in the program was developed in 1988 by Jim Fishkin ’70 GRD ’75. He has used this system in multiple countries and applied it to various issues, Farrar said. But Farrar has played a decisive role in modifying the previously existing model.

“My job has been to put these coalitions together at the local level and adapt this methodology to engage their citizens in these discussions,” Farrar said.

Farrar said this polling method is important to creating dialogue in local communities on pertinent political issues.

“You need to convene local coalitions to use this tool,” Farrar said. “[The] idea is to sustain their commitment to this kind of approach to public consultation.”

Green said he envisions these programs focusing on citizen involvement assuming increasingly greater global significance.

“The other side of [the] issue [is to] democratize American foreign policy, [to] get people involved in America’s role in the world,” Green said. “It is important that people really participate in the process of setting the agenda for not only the U.S. but also the world.”

The collective opinions of the residents of all 17 venues will be incorporated by PBS in the form of a television special titled “By the People: America in the World,” set to air Oct. 21. Public television plays an integral role in policy exchanges with the public, Leftwich said.

“We are in the business of having conversations with the American people,” she said.

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