The Poll with a Human Face: The National Issues Convention Experiment in Political Communication

The Poll with a Human Face: The National Issues Convention Experiment in Political Communication

The Poll with a Human Face: The National Issues Convention Experiment in Political Communication

The Poll with a Human Face: The National Issues Convention Experiment in Political Communication

Synopsis

In 1996, the National Issues Convention (NIC) assembled a national sample of 459 Americans on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. This diverse group of Americans was seen and heard nationally. They spent three days in small group discussions of major public issues and participated in two live PBS telecasts moderated by Jim Lehrer where they questioned Vice President Al Gore and four contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. This experiment in democracy was an innovative step that engaged the ongoing debate about mass communication and democracy.

The Poll With a Human Face details this innovative event, the arguments and logic behind it, the experiences of the delegates and journalists involved in the NIC, and social science research analyzing the news coverage and its effects. This book is both a specific case study of the NIC and a broad scale contribution to the discipline of political communication.

Excerpt

Presidential election years in the United States are filled with a vast array of activity. There are state caucuses and primaries, national nominating conventions, presidential debates, a barrage of positive and negative television advertising, a year-long flood of television and newspaper stories, and campaign events ranging from kitchen coffee klatches to large political rallies. In our most recent presidential election, an important new event was added to the roster, the National Issues Convention held in Austin, Texas, from January 18 to January 21, 1996. It was an ambitious attempt to inaugurate the presidential election year with serious consideration of major national issues by a large, representative sample of Americans. They are "the poll with a human face" discussed in this book, which offers an extensive report and analysis of that effort by a diverse group of academics and senior political journalists.

The book's opening chapters describe the events in Austin and the intellectual and logistical effort preceding that weekend of deliberation. Political scientist James S. Fishkin, who created the idea of a National Issues Convention (NIC), and his colleague Robert C. Luskin review the philosophy behind this idea, its contributions to democracy, and the actual events of that weekend in Austin, and present a vast array of evidence about its impact on the delegates who participated. Additional information about their experi-

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