When Citizens Decide: Lessons from Citizen Assemblies on Electoral Reform

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Three unprecedented large-scale democratic experiments have recently taken place. Citizen assemblies on electoral reform were conducted in British Columbia, the Netherlands, and Ontario. Groups of randomly selected ordinary citizens were asked to independently design the next electoral system. In each case, the participants spent almost an entire year learning about electoral systems, consulting the public, deliberating, debating, and ultimately deciding what specific institutionshould be adopted.When Citizens Decide uses these unique cases to examine claims about citizens' capacity for democratic deliberation and active engagement in policy-making. It offers empirical insight into numerous debates and provides answers to a series of key questions: 1) Are ordinary citizens able to decide about a complex issue? Are their decisions reasonable? 2) Who takes part in such proceedings? Are they dominated by people dissatisfied by the status quo? 3) Do some citizens play a moreprominent role than others? Are decisions driven by the most vocal or most informed members? 4) Did the participants decide by themselves? Were they influenced by staff, political parties, interest groups, or the public hearings? 5) Does participation in a deliberative process foster citizenship? Did participantsbecome more trusting, tolerant, open-minded, civic-minded, interested in politics, and active in politics? 6) How do the other political actors react? Can the electorate accept policy proposals made by a group of ordinary citizens?The analyses rely upon various types of evidence about both the inner workings of the assemblies and the reactions toward them outside: multi-wave panel surveys of assembly members, content analysis of newspaper coverage, and public opinion survey data. The lessons drawn from this research are relevant to those interested in political participation, public opinion, deliberation, public policy, and democracy.Comparative Politics is a series for students, teachers, and researchers of political science that deals with contemporary government and politics. Global in scope, books in the series are characterised by a stress on comparative analysis and strong methodological rigour. The series is published in association with the European Consortium for Political Research. For more information visit: www.essex.ac.uk/ecpr. The Comparative Politics Series is edited by ProfessorDavid M. Farrell, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin, Kenneth Carty, Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia, and Professor Dirk Berg-Schlosser, Institute of Political Science, Philipps University, Marburg.
 

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Contents

1 Power to the People?
1
2 Why Citizen Assemblies and How did they Work?
21
3 Who were the Participants?
51
4 How did the Decisions Come About?
65
5 Did the Citizen Assemblies Make the Right Decisions?
79
6 Did the Participants Decide by Themselves?
94
7 Did Participants Become Better Citizens?
113
8 Why were the Assemblies Reform Proposals Rejected?
126
9 Should we Let Citizens Decide?
145
Description of Electoral Systems
159
Question Labels Wordings and Codings for Chapter 5 British Columbiathe NetherlandsOntario
162
Question Labels Wordings and Codings for Chapter 7 British Columbiathe NetherlandsOntario
166
Question Labels Wordings and Codings for Chapter 8 200520072009 Referendums
172
References
175
Index
185
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About the author (2011)

Patrick Fournier is principal investigator for the next two Canadian Election Studies, and was co-investigator of the CES for the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Universite de Montreal. His research interests includepolitical behaviour, political psychology, citizen competence, opinion change, and survey methodology. Henk van der Kolk co-directed the Dutch Parliamentary Election Studies in 1998, 2006, and 2010. He is Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Twente. In 2006,he was involved in educating the citizen assembly on electoral reform in the Netherlands. His research interests are: electoral systems, electoral behavior, political participation, and local politics. R. Kenneth Carty has held the Brenda and David McLean Chair in Canadian Studies, served as theDirector of the UBC Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and is a past President of the Canadian Political Science Association. He is Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. He is a specialist on the structure, organization, and behaviour,of political parties and competitive party systems. Andre Blais is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a past President of the Canadian Political Science Association. He is Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Universite de Montreal. He holds a Canada Research Chair inElectoral Studies. He is the principal investigator for the Making Electoral Democracy Work project. His research interests are elections, electoral systems, turnout, public opinion, and methodology. Jonathan Rose served as the Academic Director of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.He is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Studies at Queen's University. He has held visiting positions at Victoria University of Wellington, the International Study Centre, and Kwansei Gakuin University. His research interests include Canadian politics, mass media, politicalcommunication, political advertising, and propaganda.

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