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« Report on online townhalls... | Main | Papers on online deliberative field experiments »

25 October 2009

Online Townhall Meetings: Exploring Democracy in the 21st Century.

I am pleased to announce the release of the report, Online Townhall Meetings: Exploring Democracy in the 21st Century. As noted below, this report summarizes the results of a series of randomized experiments, involving 13 Members of Congress meeting with constituents in small groups online. What were the quality of these sessions? What impact did these sessions have on participants? The results were quite heartening. Some of the key findings of the report:

The meetings increased engagement in politics. Participants in the sessions were more likely to vote and were dramatically more likely to follow the election and to attempt to persuade other citizens how to vote.

The discussions in the town hall meetings were of high quality. By standards of deliberative quality (use of accurate facts to support arguments, respect for alternative points of view, etc.) the discussions were of a very high quality.

The town hall meetings attracted a diverse array of people. These sessions were more likely than traditional venues to attract people from demographics not traditionally engaged in politics and people frustrated with the political system.

The sessions were extremely popular with constituents. A remarkable 96% of participants said they would like to be included in similar events in the future.

The online town hall meetings increased constituents' approval of the Member of Congress. Members experienced an average net approval rating jump of 18 points. There were similar increases in trust and perceptions of personal qualities such as hardworking and accessible. The sessions also increased constituents' approval of the Member's position on the issue discussed.

The online sessions increased the probability of voting for the Member. The probability of voting for the Member was 49% for control subjects and 56% for people who participated in a session, with a particularly dramatic impact on swing voters.

The positive results were seen in small and large sessions. Most of the sessions were conducted by Representatives with small groups of 15-25 constituents. To test the scalability, the team conducted one session with a Senator and nearly 200 people. All of the major results were replicated with this larger group.

Posted by David Lazer at October 25, 2009 10:45 PM