James Fishkin

Recent Articles

Talk of the Tube: How To Get Teledemocracy Right

If we are realistic and appropriately modest, television can enhance democratic deliberation.

A merican politics is suffering from a near-fatal attraction to direct democracy. Symptoms of this attraction include the proliferation of referenda, particularly in the western states, and the credibility given to Ross Perot's proposal to introduce "electronic town halls" in which television viewers would call in votes on current policy issues. We have also brought elements of direct democracy into presidential selection by creating a nominating system dominated by the direct primary. Since 1968, when Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic nomination without entering a single primary, the number of states holding primaries has grown from seventeen to thirty-nine; primaries are now the televised battleground where the nomination is effectively decided. In addition, a near-daily supply of opinion polls, reporting the approval levels of candidates and the popularity of various positions, has given us a system that is far more plebiscitary in its use of direct democracy than textbook...