The Political Impact
of Citizen Panels
Developing a sense of the public interest requires a level of cognitive engagement with the political world that is both broader and deeper than that found today…. Gauging the impact of today's political choices on the future and influencing those choices … requires political knowledge.
Michael Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter,
What Americans Know about
Politics and Why It Matters
Any successful reform of the American political system must offer a means by which citizens can broaden and deepen their understandings of the most pressing national issues. Effective reform must also sharpen voters' evaluations of the candidates who seek to act upon those issues as elected officials. The citizen panels presented in chapter 7 can provide the information that voters need without requiring a tremendous effort on the part of the average citizen.
For the panels to achieve this purpose, however, they must produce high-quality decisions, and citizens must be willing and able to use panel judgments when voting. If subject to self-deception, groupthink, and other decision-making illnesses, the citizen panels would reach unwarranted conclusions and promote the election of unqualified or unrepresentative candidates. If voters found the panel results to be irrelevant, elitist, or confusing, the panels would also fail to have their intended impact. These dangers merit discussion, and in this chapter, I explain why the panels would be likely to reach sound and influential judgments. If they succeed in these two respects, the panels could change many other features of American politics. Institutionalized citizen panels could reduce civic neglect, dampen the cynicism of public officials, promote deliberation, and change the nature of American political campaigns.