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 The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term “deliberation” is a panel debating critical issues. In a deliberative poll, a random sample of citizens is surveyed on a particular issue before and after they have been allowed to deliberate about the issue.

The purpose of deliberative polling is to inform and shape public opinion on complex topics such as immigration, health care, climate change, or resource management.

Let’s take a look at deliberative polling, its importance, and a step-by-step guide on how to run a successful deliberative poll from start to finish.

 Understanding Deliberative Polling

History and Development of Deliberative Polling

Deliberative polling was developed by James S. Fishkin in the 1980s. Fishkin, a political scientist, was worried about how civic engagement was declining and how uninformed public opinion was becoming. He designed deliberate polling believing it would give people the chance to understand and reflect on important topics.

One of the first adoption of deliberative polls was in 1996 when the UK held a televised deliberative poll about crime.

Key Principles and Objectives of Deliberative Polling

The main objective of deliberative polls is to demystify complex topics that affect the public. It also helps to identify areas of consensus and disagreement on these topics.

Policymakers also use deliberate polling to generate recommendations for policy modification. So, what are the best practices for deliberative polling?

  • Random sampling:  You must select a  random sample of citizens that are representative of the target demographic.
  • Balanced information: Ensure the poll participants receive balanced information on the issue being debated. Typically, the information is provided by experts who aren’t affiliated with the topic, allowing them to give participants unbiased information.
  • Deliberation: Allow participants to discuss the issue with themselves, under the supervision of trained moderators. This enables different opinions to be heard and understood.
  • Re-polling: Take a new poll after participants have finished the deliberation session. This allows you to measure the impact of deliberation on public opinion.

Comparison with Traditional Polling Methods

The major difference between deliberative and traditional polling is knowledge. Deliberative polling allows respondents to learn more about the topic being polled through conversations with the moderator and other participants. This is different from traditional surveys, which simply ask respondents what they think about the topic.

Deliberative polling is done before and after the deliberation to measure the impact of the deliberation on people’s opinions. However, traditional polls are a one-time study.

The Process of Deliberative Polling

1. Random Selection and Representativeness of Participants

The first step in a deliberative poll is to select a random sample of citizens to take the survey. The sample should be representative in terms of demographics (e.g., age, race/ethnicity, gender, education level, etc.). This ensures that the results of your poll are accurate and representative of public opinion.

2. Pre-polling Phase: Gathering Baseline Opinions and Knowledge

After choosing the participants, poll them about the topic. The pre-poll gives you a general idea of how people feel about the topic. It also helps you determine where people may be underinformed or misinformed.

3. Deliberation Phase: Facilitating Informed Discussions

This is where participants learn about the topic from experts and have peer-to-peer discussions. Also, make sure the deliberation is handled by professionally trained moderators who will ensure respectful and constructive discussion.

4. Post-polling Phase: Measuring Shifts in Opinions and Attitudes

After the deliberation phase, poll participants again on their opinions and knowledge about the issue. This post-poll allows you to measure the impact of the deliberation on public opinion. It also allows helps you to identify areas where participants’ opinions shifted or the new information they acquired from the session.

Benefits of Deliberative Polling

  • Promotes Informed Decision-Making

Deliberative polling allows citizens to learn about complex issues and discuss the significance of these issues with one another. This allows people to gain a better comprehension of the issues, consider different points of view, and make better-informed decisions.

  • Enhances Public Engagement and Civic Participation

Deliberative polling involves citizens in the decision-making process, making them more likely to respond to future civic engagement because they know their opinions matter.

  • Fostering Mutual Understanding and Empathy

Deliberative polls enable citizens to hear and interact with different perspectives on a particular topic. This helps people understand why people have different opinions and are willing to compromise to find common ground.

  • Mitigates Polarization and Biases

The discussion from participants of different backgrounds during the deliberation allows people to see different perspectives on the topic and challenge their biases.

Criticisms and Challenges

  • Representativeness and Bias

Deliberative polling is not always representative of the target population. A major reason for this is that participants are often selected from a pool of volunteers, who may not be representative of the general population.

Also, if your moderator or participants are already biased about the topic, other participants could end up being misinformed.

Read More – Research Bias: Definition, Types + Examples

  • Balancing Inclusivity and Expertise

Deliberative polls usually involve a mix of people with different levels of experience and knowledge about the topic being polled. This makes it harder for people to have good conversations or chip in their perspective because experts tend to dominate the conversation.

  • Managing Logistical and Resource Challenges

Deliberative polling can be a costly and time-consuming process, it requires recruiting participants, providing them with information, and facilitating the deliberation process.  The poll is also a cyclic process; it has to be done repeatedly, which can make it difficult to schedule.

  • Evaluating the Effectiveness and Impact of Deliberative Polling

The poll after the deliberation may not adequately reflect the effect of deliberation on individual participants and the public. Participants may choose different answers than what they earlier picked because of several biases- social desirability bias, bandwagon effect, and others.

Real-World Applications of Deliberative Polling

1. Case Studies of Successful Deliberative Polling Projects

In the United Kingdom, a deliberative poll on electoral reform was conducted in 2009. The results showed that a majority of voters supported a proportional representation electoral system for the UK parliament.

Another example of a well-executed deliberative poll is Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. The assembly was held in 2016 and found a clear majority in favor of a new single transferable vote (STV) electoral system for Ireland’s Dáil.

2. Examples of How Deliberative Polling Influenced Policy-Making

  • The results of the UK electoral reform deliberative poll were used as a basis for the UK government’s decision to hold an electoral reform referendum in 2011.
  • The results of the deliberative poll led to the Irish government implementing a new Electoral Reform Bill in 2022.

3. Global Adoption and Expansion of Deliberative Polling Initiatives

Deliberative polls have been adopted and developed in many countries worldwide. For example, in Europe, they have been used to investigate questions about climate change, migration, and the European Union.

Also, in Asia, they’ve been used to investigate nuclear power, health care, and education issues. In African countries like Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi, deliberative polls were used for risk management, investigating corruption, and other important issues.

The Future of Deliberative Polling

Potential Advancements and Adaptations

Streamlining the deliberation process–  Instead of manually sampling participants to ensure they are representative of the population, you can use technology to recruit and communicate with participants.

For example, you can set a limit on how many people from a certain demographic you want on the poll to participate to ensure inclusivity. You can also host your deliberation on a teleconferencing platform, so you don’t have to worry about venues, reducing costs.

Cultural and Contextual Adaptation– A major upside to deliberative polling is that it allows participants and researchers to explore topics that are particular to specific communities. It also allows you to see different perspectives on the issue depending on context or culture.

Integration with other forms of public participation– You can integrate deliberative polls with other types of public engagement, such as citizen juries or consensus conferences. This is a way more cost-effective way of reaching a wide audience without sampling bias.

Integration of Technology and Online Platforms

You can integrate deliberative polling with online platforms, allowing participants to discuss the topic in real-time, regardless of their location. It also provides participants with virtual access to research and data from experts and other participants. 

Exploring New Contexts and Issues for Deliberative Polling

  • Engage citizens in public policy making– Government and agencies can deliberative polls result as a “litmus test” to measure public approval of policies and understanding of specific issues.
  • Resolve disputes– Deliberative polls involve people from different backgrounds discussing critical issues and their different points of view. This can help to bridge the gap between different perspectives and find common ground.
  • Educate the public about complex issues– You can use deliberative polls to break down complex topics by giving participants balanced information and perspectives.


Deliberative polling is a valuable tool for improving democracy. It can help citizens to make informed decisions, actively engage in civic life, and build a more just and equitable society.

However, like most research methods, deliberative polling has its challenges and limitations. Ensure you mitigate potential biases to get accurate and reliable results.

  • Moradeke Owa
  • on 7 min read


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