Challenging Polarization Through Deliberation

Data for Democracy

Reversing toxic polarization is key to preserving democracy.

1. Americans Are Alarmed

In Citizen Data’s April democratic threats survey, roughly 60% of Americans rated political polarization and division a seven or above out of ten. The threat of polarization was deemed higher even than illegitimate elections and voter fraud, and was second only to influence of money in politics.

% Respondents Saying Polarization a Threat by Party

Something many Americans agree on is we’re too divided, and that sentiment transcends ideology.

2. Active Deliberation Can Help

Movements around the country are responding with a promising intervention: deliberation.

One example is Braver Angels, who organize workshops to bring 10–16 Republicans and Democrats together. These workshops challenge stereotypes, encourage active listening, and promote understanding through questioning. They have three goals:

  • Understand the other side better
  • Find commonality
  • Learn something useful for one’s community and/or the nation

After one workshop, participants commented on having genuine laughs and smashing stereotypes about those on the other side.

"If you did 20,000 of these across the nation, you would change the world. I truly believe that; because people are talking to people."

At a micro level, these deliberations build social capital, a resource in steep decline within American society that’s crucial for solving real-world community-level problems like public health responses to Covid-19.

On a larger scale, they can create ripple effects that change communities, counties, states and ultimately, American society.

3. Persuasion Is The Goal

Understanding democracy as deliberation is rooted in the field of deliberative democracy. Deliberation is a specific form of engagement; unlike a debate, the goal is not to win the argument but to share perspectives, and unlike a conversation, deliberation emphasizes reasoned consideration.

Deliberation aspires to:

  • Create a more informed and educated electorate: Using deliberation as a means to share, defend, test, and refine our political perspectives
  • Promote democracy as a process: Moving beyond ballot box politics where the focus is solely on the outcome, deliberative democrats see value in the ongoing and unending process of political deliberation
  • Improve relations between those who disagree: Deliberation can deepen understanding, reveal common ground, and help to form consensus

Citizen’s research emphasizes the importance of improving interpersonal relations, with less than a quarter of Americans (23.9%) currently finding discussions with those with whom they disagree a pleasant experience.

How Are Conversations With Those You Disagree With?

 

Data-in-Action

Deliberative models have been used to tackle divisive and complex issues, such as abortion in Ireland and climate change in France. With the power of American ingenuity, why can’t the U.S. be next?

To prepare for a deliberation that overcomes polarization, take the following four steps:

  1. Identify the right messengers to facilitate and encourage participants to draw on fact-based reasoning 
  2. Understand where common ground exists on polarizing topics 
  3. Engage with messaging that avoids coded and biased language
  4. Motivate participation by validating and respecting all views

At Citizen Data, we run message tests and carry out preparatory surveys to help you get ready for deliberations, and support the facilitation itself.

By bringing liberals and conservatives together on controversial topics such as vote-by-mail, climate change, and more, we can tackle misinformation and polarization at the same time.


If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. Enjoy Citizen’s Data for Democracy? You can find past installments here.