Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation
Main content start

Returning Deliberative Democracy to Athens: Deliberative Polling® for Candidate Selection


All over the world, political parties face the issue of whether or not their methods of selecting candidates are suitably democratic. In the US, the reform of candidate selection has long been a major preoccupation, particularly in the Progessive period and again following the McGovern Fraser Commission in the 1970s. These two waves of reform led to the current dominance of the mass primary as a means of candidate selection in the US, not only for the highly visible presidential primary process but also for many other offices in states around the country. By contrast, candidate selection outside the US has generally lacked transparency to the point that it was dubbed “the secret garden of politics” two decades ago in a landmark study (Gallagher and Marsh 1988). But in the time since there has been more experimentation with democratizing candidate selection, particularly in Western Europe (see Hopkin, 2001; Pennings and Hazan 2001; Bille, 2001).

Candidate selection processes come down to some basic choices. They can be classified in terms of whether the selectorate (the decision making group) is elite or mass, and whether it is open or closed. Mass primaries constitute the most prominent form of mass consultation. They can be either open or closed (open to members of any party or closed so that only party members can vote). The exact nature of elite candidate selection processes vary (for example, in the degree of centralization or hierarachy.) But so long as elites are making the decision they are almost certainly party members.

Hence, there are effectively three basic possibilities, elite party processes or mass processes that may be open or closed. Of course there can be mixed forms (elite committees nominating candidates who in turn are voted on in primaries) but we can focus on these three basic options in order to situate the project reported on here.

Research Paper