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Democracy Without Shortcuts: Can Deliberative Mini-Publics Enhance Citizens’ Democratic Control?

Democracy
Decision Making
Normative Theory
Public Opinion
Cristina Lafont
Northwestern University
Cristina Lafont
Northwestern University
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Abstract

Deliberative mini-publics such as citizens’ juries, consensus panels or deliberative polls offer ordinary citizens opportunities for quality face-to-face deliberation on political matters. This enables citizens to transform their raw opinions into genuine considered judgments. For this reason, many deliberative democrats propose inserting mini-publics in the political process, even giving them political decision-making authority, in order to improve both the substantive and the democratic quality of political decisions. However, what is missing in these proposals is any connection between the deliberative improvements of mini-publics and the quality of deliberation in the public sphere that shapes actual public opinion. Could deliberative mini-publics be used to improve deliberation in the public sphere? If so, what types of political uses would be needed and how could they be implemented? Drawing from a participatory interpretation of deliberative democracy, I distinguish several potential uses of mini-publics and analyze their pros and cons.