ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

Back to Paper Details

Do Citizens That Participate in Citizen Dialogues Adhere to Norms of Deliberation?

Civil Society
Democracy
Local Government
Activism
PerOla Öberg
Uppsala Universitet
PerOla Öberg
Uppsala Universitet
Katrin Uba
Uppsala Universitet
Julia Jennstål
Uppsala Universitet

Abstract

A growing discussion over liberal, representative democracies limitation and legitimacy has spurred experiments on different kinds of citizen dialogues. Proponents of “democratic innovations” argue that these arrangements may empower citizens, but also promote reflective public opinions and produce democratically rational and reasonable decisions (Morell 2014). In addition, a citizen dialogue is an opportunity for politicians to explain their actions to the citizens, which has proven important to decision acceptance (Esaiasson & Wlezien 2017). The hopes that deliberative communication will cure or mitigate the problems of representative democracy often rest on an assumption that citizens to some degree are prepared to argue and listen; that there are ‘deliberative persons’ (Niemeyer 2014). However, our empirical knowledge on this is still inconclusive. While many democratic innovations indeed have been successful (Grönlund et al 2014), the questionable willingness and capacity among citizens to deliberate (Niemeyer 2014, p. 185 sums up some) and the various biases that participants bring to deliberation may impede the development of reflective opinions (Morell 2014). One aspect of great importance for the workings of citizen dialogues—that is still severely under research—is to what extent citizens adhere to norms of deliberation. Do citizens in general think that political discussions should take the form of deliberative communication and are such views over-represented among citizens that participate in citizen dialogues or not? We contribute to this discussion based on results from a unique survey among Swedish citizens. More precisely we pose the research question: Do citizens that participate in citizen dialogues organized by local governments adhere to the norms that politics should not primarily be about winning discussion but that everyone should be prepared to change position after listening to others arguments? Contrary to assumptions, optimistic hopes and expectations, citizens that participate in citizen dialogues, more than others, think that politics should be considered a game that you should try to win, and furthermore, they are less likely than others to think that we should be prepared to change our minds when we participate in political discussions. Interestingly, and in spite of the fact that citizen initiated contacts with politicians is considered to be less deliberative than citizen dialogues, citizens that engage in citizen initiated contacts have a more positive view on these basic components of deliberation. Citizens that participate in citizen dialogues seem to have more of an “activist mind-set” than others, especially compared to citizens that take initiatives to traditional contacts with local politicians. The results have serious consequences for how deliberative democracy can be implemented based on citizen dialogues and for the opportunities to build democratic responsiveness in this way. Based on these empirical findings, the paper ends with a discussion about obstacles for the realization of deliberative democracy but also about how it can be facilitated.