How Much Disagreement is Good for Democratic Deliberation? The CaliforniaSpeaks Health Care Reform Experiment

36 Pages Posted: 9 May 2009 Last revised: 28 Mar 2010

See all articles by Kevin M. Esterling

Kevin M. Esterling

University of California, Riverside (UCR) - Department of Political Science

Archon Fung

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Taeku Lee

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Date Written: March 26, 2010

Abstract

Are we the kind of creatures who are suited to govern ourselves through deliberation? We seek to answer one important component of this question: how do individuals respond to deliberation in groups with varying levels of disagreement? We use a natural experiment in which approximately 3000 individuals were divided into small groups composed of about 8-10 persons. These groups deliberated for one day about health care reform in California. We demonstrate that there is a non-monotonic effect of disagreement upon deliberative quality. Elements of deliberative quality include mutual respect, understanding, proferring of reasons and arguments, equal opportunity for discursive engagement, and neutrality. Deliberative quality is maximized at moderate levels of disagreement and lower at high levels of ideological agreement or disagreement. Furthermore, individuals exhibit higher levels of persuasion in deliberative contexts of moderate disagreement. These findings support the view that many individuals have elements of a political psychology that is well suited for deliberation. They do not recoil when encountering disagreement nor do they especially value deliberating with those who see the world in very similar ways. Instead, they regard as most successful deliberations with moderate levels of difference -- perhaps those in which they were acquire new information, perspectives, or reasons. Beyond our substantive finding, this paper offers a methodological template for experimental studies of deliberation.

Keywords: Deliberative Experiment, Homophily, Stochastic Treatment, Ideal Points, Latent Variable Models

JEL Classification: C11, C93

Suggested Citation

Esterling, Kevin M. and Fung, Archon and Lee, Taeku, How Much Disagreement is Good for Democratic Deliberation? The CaliforniaSpeaks Health Care Reform Experiment (March 26, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1401151 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1401151

Kevin M. Esterling (Contact Author)

University of California, Riverside (UCR) - Department of Political Science ( email )

Riverside, CA 92521
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.politicalscience.ucr.edu/people/faculty/esterling/index.html

Archon Fung

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-9846 (Phone)
617-496-1722 (Fax)

Taeku Lee

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science ( email )

210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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