Including all voices in political deliberation

November 21, 2016 by Sherri Klassen

Imagine a political discussion that involves in-depth reasoned discussion and has the potential to move people with entrenched positions to considering alternative viewpoints.

In light of the recent US election, such a scenario might seem utopian. Even so, participation in political communication is one of the cornerstones of democracy. Robust democratic involvement asks that citizens deliberate on issues – that they think deeply and engage with each other on issues of public importance.

One of Professor Erik Schneiderhan’s new research projects studies the ways in which citizens deliberate, and how ethnicity matters for this deliberation. The project will use funding from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant to convene five assemblies, or Deliberation Days, where Canadians in five different communities come together to deliberate over political issues that impact Canadians of all ethnicities: gun control policy measures, and policy regarding climate change. Professor Schneiderhan’s previous lab-based research has shown that deliberation “shakes things up” and often can change individual positions. This project takes the research out of the lab and into the complexities of our multi-ethnic communities in Canada.

To understand how deliberation “matters” for individual policy preferences and attitudes in the short and long term, Professor Schneiderhan’s team will begin by telephoning 1,000 people sampled from the five communities. The survey will ask baseline opinions about gun control and climate change. The team will then develop a representative sample out of these participants and invite 25 of them from each location to participate in Deliberation Days where they will deliberate in groups with specific experimental inputs from the research team to help the researchers understand the influence of deliberation and the ways that ethnicity interacts with it. The team will also follow up after the Deliberation Day to determine whether the effects of the deliberation endured.

Ultimately, this project promises to bring understanding to one of the biggest challenges facing modern democracies: how to bring in marginalized voices so that their voices can be heard.