Is Deliberation an Antidote to Extreme Partisan Polarization? Reflections on “America in One Room”

This paper stands at the intersection of two literatures—on partisan polarization and on democratic deliberation—that have not had much connection with one another. If readers find some of the results surprising, the authors have had the same reaction. In this paper we describe these results and our approach to explaining them.

This paper is positioned at the intersection of two literatures: partisan polarization and deliberative democracy. It analyzes results from a national field experiment in which more than 500 registered voters were brought together from around the country to deliberate in depth over a long weekend on five major issues facing the country. A pre–post control group was also asked the same questions. The deliberators showed large, depolarizing changes in their policy attitudes and large decreases in affective polarization. The paper develops the rationale for hypotheses explaining these decreases and contrasts them with a literature that would have expected the opposite. The paper briefly concludes with a discussion of how elements of this “antidote” can be scaled.