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OSU study: Shift may make politics polite

Special to the Legal News

Published: March 14, 2017

According to a new Ohio State University-led study published recently in the journal, Science, the manner in which our society approaches difficult problems may make U.S. politics worse than need be.

Political scientists found a deliberative approach could mean the difference between hackles-raised dissonance and harmonious cooperation.

An example of the deliberative style offered in a press release announcing the study's publication is asking constituents "what should we do?" rather than "what do you want."

"Even this small shift in how we ask questions can have profound effects," said Ohio State associate professor of Political Science Michael Neblo - lead author of the paper. "Using this deliberative frame is not a cure-all for the problems of our political culture, but it can help nurture a healthier democracy."

Part of the problem, the study found, was that policy recommendations made to improve our democratic system have become rare in contemporary political science.

Neblo noted that in the post-World War II years such recommendations have dropped from 20 percent of all articles in the American Political Science Review to a current level of 1 percent.

"We need a translational political science that bridges the gap between abstract political theory and nitty gritty policy work," he said.

A 2015 study of the deliberative framework and its effect on town hall interactions between elected officeholders and their constituents.

The town halls designed for this study were not like the typical ones organized by members of Congress, which generally attract strong supporters and people with specific grievances, the press release detailed. These town halls for the study featured a randomly selected, diverse set of constituents, many of whom were not politically active.

The constituent make-up allowed town hall participants to get beyond partisan talking points and discuss why each party believed what it did, Neblo said. Both constituents and members of Congress gave high marks to this sort of town hall and said they would participate again.

"These deliberative moments gave elected officials the opportunity to persuade people on the merits of their rationales," Neblo said. "Our current political system is based too much on scripted messages and doesn't give many opportunities for this kind of honest dialogue."

Neblo coauthored the Policy Forum article in Science with colleagues from Ohio State, the University of California, Riverside, Northeastern University and Harvard University.

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