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Volume 26 • Number 3

July 2012



Why Deliberative Democrac y Is (Still) Untenable

by Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij

The term "deliberative democracy" denotes a family of views united by the idea that social deliberation is central to democratic decision making. While there is, undoubtedly, something inherently appealing about the idea of a deliberating public, a common objection to deliberative democracy builds upon the fact that the majority of the public is likely to be incompetent with respect to the issues of relevance to governance. Consider, for example, the following findings, due to Michael Carpini and Scott Keeter:

Only 13 percent of the more than 2,000 political questions examined could be answered correctly by 75 percent or more of those asked, and only 41 percent could be answered by more than half the public. Many of the facts known by relatively small percentages of the public seem critical to understanding—let alone effectively acting in—the political world: fundamental rules of the game; classic civil liberties; key concepts of political economy; the names of key representatives; many important policy positions of presidential candidates or the political parties; basic social indicators and significant public policies. (Carpini and Keeter 1996, pp. 101102)

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Public Affairs Quarterly is published by the University of Illinois Press on behalf of North American Philosophical Publications.

ISSN: 2152-0542