A Public Voice That’s Missing: A Cousins Research Group Report on The Public and the Government


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It is no secret that the American people have been unhappy with our political system for some time. They have lost confidence in government as well as other major institutions. Despite numerous efforts by institutions to engage the public, polarization flourishes and officials aren’t persuaded that what citizens have to say is useful. Policymaking is dominated by the voices of elected officials, professionals who staff our bureaucracies, and special interests. There is little of a public voice being heard.

Political leaders aren’t lacking for information on public opinions from polls or the results of focus group research, but policymakers need to know much more about how citizens will respond to the difficult trade-offs that are inescapable in policymaking. They need to know not just what people want but what they are willing to live with. Officeholders are often faced with deciding between options that are ideological opposites, which leads to further polarization. Encouraging a public voice can counter this polarization by getting beyond the predictable, bipolar options and dealing with all those that resonate with what people hold dear.

This Cousins Research Group report by Kettering Foundation president David Mathews grew out of a speech to the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD). Mathews points out that there is an opportunity to add a more public voice because, for the first time in our history, there are a number of nongovernmental groups that are willing to let citizens make up their own minds rather than insisting they accept a predetermined position. These organizations identify as promoting dialogue or deliberation on critical issues and could provide officeholders with useful insights into how the public sees issues and makes decisions about policies. 

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Federal Government
Local and State Government
Public Deliberation

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