Study finds citizen panels outdo public opinion polls

Citizen panels could generate better policy preferences than public opinion polls, finds recent Canadian study.

A comparison between Edmonton citizen’s panel on climate change and public opinion poll results reveals that deliberation prompts critical thinking on policy preferences.

The study, Citizen Panels and Opinion Polls: Convergence and Divergence in Policy Preferences, charts this comparison through revealing longstanding effects of deliberation on participant views arising from the Citizen’s Panel on Edmonton’s Energy and Climate Challenges (2013).

Citizen panelists took part in 42 hours of learning about policy proposals and related issues, and contributed to creating recommendation statements for the final report to the City Council.

The study finds ‘converging’ and ‘diverging’ patterns between panelists and poll respondents indicates deliberation may compel people to better examine their views. Of the five policy domains under consideration, three saw a convergence between participant views and public opinion polls. Participant views on two policy domains, however, observed enduring changes for six months after the deliberation.

While the findings imply that differences may result from the specifics of  each proposal, the patterns reveal the value of deliberative exercises to support informed considerations of contentious policy issues. Deliberative processes, for instance, prompted critical thinking about trade-offs of the policy proposals under discussion.

The study suggest that the two distinct design features of the deliberation – the long duration of the exercise and the connection to the policy-making process – may have played an important role in shaping the short and long-term views of the participants.

The authors propose further research questions to understand how views may change across a deliberative process, and how design features may affect these changes.

Boulianne, Shelley, Lopston, Kristiana and David Kahane, Citizen Panels and Opinion Polls: Convergence and Divergence in Policy Preferences, Journal of Public Deliberation, v.4, no.1, 2018.

Shelley Boulianne is associate professor in the Department of Sociology at MacEwan University. Kristjana Loptson is a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Saskatchewan. David Kahane is professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta.

Photo: Nicole Honeywill/Unsplash

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