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How Deliberation Affects Public Opinion

Democratic theorists argue that deliberation promotes consensus and enlightenment, but few explain how deliberation affects public opinion. This 2004 study by Jason Barbaras of Harvard University and Southern Illinois University (published in American Political Science Review, Vol. 98, No. 4, November 2004) develops a theory of deliberative opinion updating based upon Bayesian learning whereby citizens revise their prior beliefs with information obtained through discussion.

The theory focuses analytical attention on both the opinions citizens report to survey researchers as well as the distributions of considerations underlying their individual attitudes. Application of the theory to a panel survey bracketing a deliberative forum and national surveys reveals that as expected, deliberation improves knowledge, affects the considerations underlying opinions, and alters references toward Social Security reform options.

The results show that public discussion in an organized deliberative forum or in ordinary situations can increase knowledge and alter opinions, but it does so selectively based upon the quality and diversity of the deliberation.

Download the article: http://ncdd.org/rc/wp-content/uploads/Barabas-HowDelibAffectsPubOpinion.pdf

As of May 2011, the article is also still available for download at http://people.rwj.harvard.edu/~jbarabas/Recent%20Papers/Barabas-APSR%202004.pdf

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