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Could public participation meet its public? The resilience of social inequalities in new types of public participation

Guillaume Gourgues
Sciences Po Grenoble
Guillaume Gourgues
Sciences Po Grenoble
Jessica Sainty
Sciences Po Grenoble
Open Panel

Abstract

During the last decade, a major debate was raised among political science scholars about people’s willingness to deliberate and to participate, mainly based on quantitative approaches using opinion surveys. While Hibbing and Theiss-Morse argue that people do not want to participate in more direct forms of democracy despite better opportunities provided by political authorities, a Harvard research argue that younger people, racial minorities, and lower income people tend to participate only when public authorities offer a concrete proposition of deliberation. This argument is based on an experimental survey which compares hypothetical and concrete opportunities to deliberate. Our paper confronts this statement to real politics: could a pre-existent and real public offer of participatory deliberation concern excluded people? Based on a survey address to 1200 french citizens in 2009, we correlate knowledge and opinion of our sample about existing regional public offers of participatory deliberation. Our results are twofold. Firstly, only high-educated people, aware to political innovation, who have a good knowledge about political life, have a real knowledge about this public offer. Secondly, despite people know the existence of participatory institutional-settings they do not perceive it as a “progress”: a large proportion of respondents have a negative opinion about this trend. These empirical results lead us to argue that the non-experimental participatory/deliberative settings have no clear influence on citizens’ willingness to participate. As classical electoral systems, public participation copes with socio-economic inequalities which question the consequences of the emergence of new types of political participation.