The Conversations of Democracy. Citizens' Everyday Communication in the Deliberative System

Research question/goal: 

The project addresses a major gap in the empirical study of deliberative politics. Although democratic theory's deliberative turn stimulated increasing interest in the role of talk for the quality of democratic politics, research has paid hardly any attention to ordinary citizens' informal conversations about politics so far. No assured knowledge exists about how this form of political communication is measured against the high normative standards of deliberation. Moreover, there is no robust evidence on the factors that lead to a higher deliberative quality of everyday political talk or on whether it actually has the beneficial influences on the democratic process expected by deliberative theory.

The project seeks to contribute to a deeper understanding of people's conversations about public affairs as the most basic form of political communication and foundation of democracy's deliberative system by investigating their deliberativeness as well as their conditions and consequences. Complementing research on political communication in institutional arenas of the deliberative system, the project aims at answering three interrelated research questions: (RQ1) How deliberative is citizens' everyday talk about politics? To assess the deliberative quality of people's interpersonal communication, this communication will be empirically described on a range of subdimensions and systematically compared to the ideal type of genuine deliberation. (RQ2) What conditions contribute to the deliberativeness of citizens' everyday talk about politics? Building on approaches from participation research, the project will focus on individuals' personal skills and motivations as well as on opportunities and constraints that result from their embeddedness in socio-spatial and situational contexts. (RQ3) Does the deliberativeness of citizens' everyday talk about politics lead to the beneficial consequences for democratic politics assumed by deliberative theory?

The project will test hypotheses from deliberative theory that propose effects of deliberative communication on individuals' civic orientations and legitimacy beliefs. It will thus contribute to a better understanding of the microfoundations of the system-level consequences of deliberative communication. To address these research questions, the project combines a local, two-wave panel survey of a random sample of citizens with a snowball survey of political discussants and aggregate data on sociopolitical contexts. To investigate the role of situational circumstances, the panel will be timed in such a way that the baseline interviews reflect the normal conditions of 'between-election' politics and the reinterviews the politicized context of electoral politics.

Current stage: 

The project team has successfully completed the data collection phase. From January to March 2018, more than 870 30-minute-long telephone interviews were conducted with the main respondents in the second panel wave. The data sets generated from the three pillars of the project (2-wave panel survey as well as telephone and web interviews with the political discussion partners named by the main respondents) were compiled into one large data set. A methodological report on the project has been published as a MZES working paper, and first results were presented at national and international conferences. Currently, the project team focuses on data analysis and first publications in international journals.

Fact sheet

Funding: 
DFG
Duration: 
2008 to 2023
Status: 
ongoing
Data Sources: 
Cross-Section survey expanded by snow-ball component
Geographic Space: 
Germany

Publications