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Deliberative Capacity in the Political and Civic Sphere



In an evolving deliberative system, a crucial question is how deliberation of ordinary citizens differs from that of professional politicians. This study compares the deliberative capacity of citizens and political elites on exactly the same issue, namely a direct democratic initiative in Switzerland on the expulsion of criminal immigrants. In concrete, I perform a quantitative content analysis of the quality of citizen deliberation in an online poll and compare this to the quality of deliberation in representative politics, namely in the non-public committee and public floor debates in the Swiss parliament. The findings show that political elites reach much higher levels of justification rationality than ordinary citizens, but achieve lower levels in terms of respect. I conclude that citizen deliberation, while useful as an advisory tool, cannot replace serious deliberative scrutiny in representative politics.