American Political Science Review

Research Article

Who Wants To Deliberate—And Why?


a1 Ohio State University

a2 University of California at Riverside

a3 University of Houston

a4 Northeastern University and Harvard University

a5 University of Colorado


Interest in deliberative theories of democracy has grown tremendously among political theorists, political scientists, activists, and even government officials. Many scholars, however, are skeptical that it is a practically viable theory, even on its own terms. They argue (inter alia) that most people dislike politics and that deliberative initiatives would amount to a paternalistic imposition. Using two large national samples investigating people's hypothetical willingness to deliberate and their actual participation in response to a real invitation to deliberate with their member of Congress, we find that (1) willingness to deliberate in the United States is much more widespread than expected, and (2) it is precisely those people less likely to participate in traditional partisan politics who are most interested in deliberative participation. They are attracted to such participation as a partial alternative to “politics as usual.”


c1 Michael A. Neblo is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Ohio State University, 154 N. Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43215 (

c2 Kevin M. Esterling is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California at Riverside, 900 University Avenue, Riverside, CA 92521 (

c3 Ryan P. Kennedy is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Houston, 447 Philip G. Hoffman Hall, Houston, TX 77204-3011 (

c4 David M. J. Lazer is Associate Professor of Political Science and Computer & Information Science, Northeastern University, 301 Meserve Hall, Boston, MA 02115, as well as Visiting Scholar, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, Cambridge MA 02138 (

c5 Anand E. Sokhey is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Colorado, Ketchum 106, 333 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309 (


This project was funded by a grant from the Digital Government Program of the National Science Foundation (award # IIS-0429452). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association and the Bern Interdisciplinary Center for Deliberative Studies, Bern, Switzerland. We thank the participants at those meetings for their helpful comments, as well as Sonja Amadae, Paul Beck, Daniel Davis, Chad Flanders, Brian Gaines, Eric MacGilvray, Kathleen McGraw, Eileen McMahon, William Minozzi, Tom Nelson, and Craig Volden. Special thanks to John Hibbing for his generosity and constructive engagement, to Jenny Mansbridge for particularly detailed and useful suggestions, and to our partners at the Congressional Management Foundation for their extraordinary efforts in facilitating the sessions with the members of Congress. Finally, we thank the coeditors of the APSR, as well as four anonymous reviewers, for pushing us to correct and clarify our arguments. Any remaining mistakes are our own.