Deliberative Polling is an important innovation in “civic engagement.” Citizens are randomly selected to meet as a kind of large jury for several days. They hear testimony from experts, deliberate at length, and finally vote their opinion on a contentious issue. Deliberative Polling has been used by television broadcasters in the US, Britain, and Australia. The participants deliberate, interview national political candidates, and report their results on TV. Deliberative Polling has also been used as part of the formal process for regulating public utilities in Texas, among other cases.
Deliberative Polling is relatively expensive, and everyone in the civic renewal field constantly struggles with money issues. But get this–the Texas prosecutor who is investigating Rep. Tom DeLay, Ronnie Earle, has forced Sears, Cracker Barrel, Questerra, and Diversified Collections Systems to contribute large amounts of cash to the Center for Deliberative Polling at UT-Austin. These companies were accused of making illegal contributions in connection to the DeLay case, as part of what Earle called “an effort to … control representative democracy in Texas.” But they settled out of court by agreeing to support deliberative democracy in the state.