Strengthening deliberative democracy with plebiscitary elements for democratic revitalization

Name: Krista Ettlinger
Department: Utrecht School of Governance, Utrecht University
Supervisors: dr. Ank Michels, prof. dr. Albert Meijer, prof. dr. Frank Hendriks
Image Redress Krista
Project description

The research question underlying this PhD project is, To what extent and how can instruments of deliberative democracy, strengthened with elements of plebiscitary democracy, supplement representative democracy?

Instruments of deliberative democracy are forms of public participation wherein citizens engage in considered dialogue that helps to both inform and shift opinions. Examples of instruments of deliberative democracy are mini-publics, citizens’ assemblies, G1000’s, citizens’ juries, and consensus conferences. Instruments of plebiscitary democracy are forms of public participation wherein citizens can vote directly on matters of public policy. Examples of instruments of plebiscitary democracy are citizens’ initiatives, referenda, and polling.

Although both deliberative and plebiscitary democratic instruments have benefits, they also have their drawbacks. Purely deliberative instruments are praised for stimulating a high quality of dialogue among citizens, but they are criticized for being limited to small groups and for lacking an effect on policy. Purely plebiscitary instruments, on the other hand, have the benefit of being inclusive and often have a direct impact on policy, but they are criticized for having a superficial level of information and being easily manipulated by special interest groups.

This project hopes to answer the above question by researching hybrid democratic innovations.  Hybrid democratic innovations are combinations of both deliberative and plebiscitary democratic instruments; therefore, they combine considered dialogue between citizens with an element of voting. It is hoped that hybrid democratic innovations can provide the benefits of both forms without the drawbacks. However, the systematic and empirical evaluation of this claim is lacking. What differentiates this PhD project from other parts of the REDRESS project is that it approaches this knowledge gap from the theoretical perspective of deliberative democracy as it contributes to the systematic evaluation of these hybrid democratic innovations.

The first part of this project takes stock of what we already know about these increasingly popular hybrid democratic innovations, analyzing existing cases in the Netherlands and abroad. Examples of cases include the Irish Constitutional Assembly, the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, and the Belgian G1000. Cases like these will be evaluated according to what they contribute to democratic values to better understand what these innovations contribute to representative democracy.

The second part of this project focuses on deeper, qualitative research, which will gather data from new or on-going cases of hybrid democratic innovation. Additionally, this research hopes to translate the insights from this analysis to the Dutch context with the aim of strengthening representative democracy in the Netherlands.