by Ted Wachtel
In the original democracy in ancient Athens, Greece, most public officials were not elected. Instead, they were selected by random lottery from among the citizenry, to serve as legislators, jurors and in other roles. Critics of democracy since the Greek philosopher Plato have argued that “the people are neither sufficiently informed nor reflective enough to rule.”*
Yet for almost three decades, professor James S. Fishkin, now at Stanford University, has repeatedly demonstrated the opposite—how smart the public can be—through a process called a Deliberative Poll™. The process starts with a conventional telephone poll, asking several questions, after which respondents are invited to join, in person, a weekend of presentations and deliberations about the issues identified in the poll. At the close of the weekend, they answer the poll questions a second time. Fishkin reports that participants change their choices from the first poll almost seventy percent of the time—a surprising result, because people usually are more resistant to change.