John Gastil challenges conventional assumptions about public opinion, elections, and political expression in this persuasive treatise on how to revitalize the system of representative democracy in the United States.
Gastil argues that American citizens have difficulty developing clear policy interests, seldom reject unrepresentative public officials, and lack a strong public voice. Our growing awareness of a flawed electoral system is causing increased public cynicism and apathy. The most popular reforms, however, will neither restore public trust nor improve representation. Term limits and campaign finance reforms will increase turnover, but they provide no mechanism for improved deliberation and accountability.
Building on the success of citizen juries and deliberative polling, Gastil proposes improving our current process by convening randomly selected panels of citizens to deliberate for several days on ballot measures and candidates. Voters would learn about the judgments of these citizen panels through voting guides and possibly information printed on official ballots. The result would be a more representative government and a less cynical public. America has a long history of experimentation with electoral systems, and the proposals in By Popular Demand merit serious consideration and debate.
John Gastil is a Professor in the Department of Speech Communication at the University of Washington. He is the author of Democracy in Small Groups: Participation, Decision Making, and Communication (1993).
"By Popular Demand tackles two important issues--increasing political participation and restoring trust in government--that are critical to the future of American democracy. John Gastil's careful research makes a solid contribution to the recent literature on the growing divide between the public, elections, and policy decisions. His solutions are worthy of our careful consideration."—Mark Baldassare, author of When Government Fails: The Orange County Bankruptcy (California 1998) and California in the New Millennium: The Changing Social and Political Landscape (California 2000).
"In an era of political cynicism, a new movement of citizen empowerment is afoot. Encouraging active involvement through community dialogue and deliberation, advocates of strong democracy are designing innovative processes in which ordinary citizens can work through difficult public issues by constructive and respectful talk. John Gastil's new book By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy by Deliberative Elections is a new landmark work in the literature of politics and communication and should be read by everyone interested in the revitalization of democracy."—Stephen W. Littlejohn, President Public Dialogue Consortium
"By Popular Demand is a persuasively argued account of the deficiencies of the U.S. electoral system. Gastil provides a wealth of insights into the frequent disconnect between politicians and their constituents. His solution for the ails of popular representation--including on voters' ballots the correspondence between legislators' positions and those of citizen panels--should provoke spirited debate among scholars, journalists, and policymakers alike."—Mark A. Smith, University of Washington
John Gastil makes a compelling case for a more deliberative approach to electing officials in the United States. He understands the potential for public deliberation and the barriers to it. Anyone interested in improving the representativeness of the electoral process should take note of this book and its provocative proposal. As Gastil masterfully demonstrates, a deliberative citizenry provides both the knowledge and will required to legitimate democratic governance."—David Mathews, President, Kettering Foundation
"Hallelujah for John Gastil! He's right on target that citizens must regain their place in our politics and public life. His call to create more places for citizens to talk deeply about their concerns and hopes is one we must all heed."—Richard C. Harwood, Founder and President of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation