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By The People: A National Issues Convention in Philadelphia

Photo: Mateus Campos Felipe/Unsplash

The inaugural event of By the People brought together more than 300 Americans in Philadelphia, birthplace of the U.S. Constitution, to discuss America in the world in a National Issues Convention that was broadcast on PBS on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2003.  What if the entire United States could sit down in a single room to tackle the toughest issues facing the nation? For only the second time in American history, a representative random sample of the American public got together to talk. On January 10th-12th, over 350 Americans of every region, race, faith, and profession gathered for one extraordinary weekend to ask one very important question: What is America’s role in the world today?

The January 2003 National Issues Convention was built around a Deliberative Opinion Poll. Unlike polls that only capture spur-of-the-moment judgments, the Deliberative Poll measures what people would think if they had the time to become better informed. The random sample of Americans will take a poll prior to attending the National Issues Convention. Then, throughout the weekend, in small groups and large question and answer sessions, these Americans from all walks of life exchanged opinions, learned from each other, and questioned experts and decision-makers in person. Having read about and discussed the issues thoroughly, the participants took the poll again.