The lessons and limitations of experiments in democratic deliberation

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Experiments are essential to the practice of democratic deliberation, which itself is an experimental remedy to the problem of self-governance. This field, however, is constrained by the impossibility of conducting ecologically valid experiments that take into account the full complexity of deliberative theory, which spans different levels of analysis and has a multidimensional variable at its core. Nonetheless, informative patterns have emerged from the dozens of lab studies, survey experiments, and quasi-experiments in the field conducted to date. This body of work shows the feasibility of gathering diverse samples of people to deliberate, but it also underscores the difficulties that arise in deliberation, including extreme disagreement, poor conflict management, and how a lack of diversity can forestall meaningful disagreement. When public engagement strategies and discussion formats mitigate those hazards, deliberation can improve participants' understanding of issues, sharpen their judgments, and change their attitudes toward civic engagement. Well-publicized deliberative minipublics can even influence wider public opinion and voting intentions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-291
Number of pages21
JournalAnnual Review of Law and Social Science
StatePublished - Oct 13 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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