Democracies: Delegative vs Deliberative

An interesting article in Science argues that deliberative mechanisms can resolve the present crisis in democracy. Although the solution by itself is not novel the article takes into account the latest work in cognitive psychology and democratic skepticism.

Achen and Bartels in Democracy for Realists claim that people vote mainly guided by group identity, oblivious to reasons for or against candidates or policies. The study led to arguments in favour of delegative democracy where an electorate has the option of vesting voting power in delegates rather than voting directly themselves. However the latest article in Science rejects this inference.

They instead argue in support of deliberative democracy. Their claim:

Psychological research shows that even if people are bad solitary reasoners, they can be good group problem-solvers. Individual reasoning can improve under the right social conditions (for example, ones that generate alternative viewpoints for the individual to consider), thus enabling the more positive assessment of individual reasoning found in cognitive and decision psychology (as opposed to social and political psychology) to come to the fore. Thus, research focused on individuals in isolation is not a strong match for the novel aspect of the contemporary crisis of democracy, which is a crisis of communication, not of individual reasoning, the virtues and flaws of which remain much as they have always been.

They further cite the following empirical results based on deliberative experiments across the world:

  1. Claims that most people do not want to participate in politics prove false once the possibility of participation in meaningful deliberation is offered.
  2. Ordinary people are capable of high-quality deliberation, especially when deliberative processes are well-arranged: when they include the provision of balanced information, expert testimony, and oversight by a facilitator.
  3. Deliberation can overcome polarisation. In deliberative conditions, the group becomes less extreme; absent deliberative conditions, the members become more extreme.
  4. Deliberation promotes considered judgment and counteracts populism. In contrast to knee-jerk responses to partisan and populist cues, deliberation leads judgments to become more considered and more consistent with values that individuals find that they hold after reflection.

So the conclusion is that deliberation, discussion, and reflection is still possibleI remain unconvinced of this line of hopeful thinking as of today though.

Views expressed on the blog are the author’s own and do not constitute Takshashila’s policy recommendations