Don't Give Up on Democracy
Published June 8, 2021
In 2019, Americans from across to country gathered in Texas to discover whether people from a variety of backgrounds could have civil discussions about important and controversial policy issues. When assembled in small groups and provided with unbiased briefing papers, participants did not divide themselves among party lines. This experiment in deliberative democracy shows that Americans have not given up on democracy and that restoring faith in our system will require an intentional effort to engage with people who hold opposing viewpoints.
- How can politically diverse people have civil discussions about policy issues?
- How can you apply the lessons from the Center for Deliberative Democracy experiment to your own life?
For the past few decades political parties, campaigns, and the media have been driving Americans towards a bitter division, causing some to question the stability of democracy.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In 2019, researchers conducted an experiment in Deliberative Democracy. It set out to discover whether people from a variety of backgrounds could gather and have a civil discussion about important and controversial policy issues. They called the gathering “America in One Room,” because it brought together a representative sample of the entire country.
Five hundred and thirty ordinary Americans from across the country were invited to Texas, where they spent four days discussing topics like the economy, health care, immigration, the environment, and foreign policy.
Their discussions were informed by balanced briefing papers, which presented the pros and cons of different policy options. And neutral moderators ensured a safe space for mutually respectful dialogue.
The results were uplifting. When assembled in small groups, the participants did not divide themselves along partisan lines. Instead they welcomed a spirit of civility and bipartisanship.
Conversations focused on issues, rather than personal attacks. Because participants felt respected and heard, their minds were open. When presented with new evidence, people were even willing to rethink their views.
The results of the experiment clearly show that Americans have not given up on democracy. But restoring faith in our system will require an intentional and genuine effort to engage with those holding other views—and many more efforts at Deliberative Democracy.