What if we had civil and evidence-based dialogue across our great divides of party, ideology and identity?
The project America in One Room was a national experiment to find out. Over a long weekend in September, we had a scientific sample of 523 registered voters from around the country gather in Dallas. (The event was organized by Helena, a nonpartisan problem-solving institution, By the People Productions and the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, and participants were recruited by NORC at the University of Chicago.)
The experiment produced some shocking results. After several days of diverse small group discussions facilitated by moderators and sessions featuring experts and presidential candidates from both parties who answered questions from participants, the percentage saying the system of American democracy was “working well” doubled to 60 percent from 30 percent.
The deliberations were focused around policy proposals in five areas that had been singled out by voters as the most important issues of the day: immigration, health care, the economy, the environment and foreign policy. The participants were guided by a 55-page handbook, prepared by policy experts from both parties, offering arguments for and against each proposal. The participants had been surveyed on the policy proposals in advance, and they took the same opinion survey again upon completing the four days of deliberation.