TEXAS, home of political legends Lyndon Johnson and John Tower,
will be the site of what could be the first major event of the 1992
presidential election, the nation's first "deliberative" opinion
If this new kind of poll is successful, it could lead to
significant reform of the democratic political process, not only in
the United States but in other countries, says the poll's creator.
Next Jan. 17-19, 600 "delegates" will take part in the National
Issues Convention, sponsored by the Public Broadcasting Service and
hosted by the University of Texas at Austin. The delegates will be
brought here, expenses paid by PBS, to participate in a three-day
face-to-face forum with participating presidential candidates of
The randomly selected delegates, whose identities will be kept
secret until the start of the convention, will be divided into two
groups, one of self-identified Democrats, the other Republicans.
Delegates will be polled before the convention to identify issues
of concern to them. After broad issue areas are defined, economic
competitiveness or civil rights, for example, candidates will be
asked to submit position papers on the chosen topics. Delegates will
be sent these materials in advance, so when the convention begins
they will be prepared to question candidates on their views.
At the end of the weekend, delegates will endorse presidential
hopefuls based on both the breadth and depth of support for each
candidate on each issue.
Officials of WETA, the Washington, D.C. PBS station and producer
of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, were in Austin last Thursday to
announce the event.
Richard Hutton, a WETA co-executive producer, said the
convention, estimated to cost between $3 million and $4 million, is
part of an effort to give greater depth to television coverage of
the presidential race.
"The three days is part of a strategy of trying to focus on
issues as opposed to personalities" of the candidates, Hutton said.
The concept of the deliberative opinion poll belongs to James
Fishkin, chairman of the Department of Government at the University
of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Fishkin says the spread of the political primary solved the
problem of how to distribute political influence equally among the
electorate, but at the expense of substantive, face-to-face
discourse between candidate and voter.
Current political polls try to predict the future based on what
limited information the public can glean from the "filtering
mechanisms of political advertising, shrinking sound bites and
standard stump speeches," Fishkin said. …