BATTLE CREEK, Mich. – Today the results of the first-ever statewide Michigan Deliberative Poll were released by By The People, a civic engagement initiative launched by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The Deliberative Poll was an effort to bring a scientific sample of “ordinary” residents together to discuss important issues of the day. More than 300 Michigan residents gathered for a weekend in Lansing and the results included new ideas regarding taxation, spending and environment, according to the poll and the new MacNeil/Lehrer Productions television documentary, “Hard Times, Hard Choices.” The documentary premieres on Michigan PBS stations Jan. 18, 2010 (check your local listings for times) and later on PBS stations across the country.
By The People, the Center for Deliberative Democracy and the Kellogg Foundation engaged a diverse, representative sample of Michigan residents in a face-to-face statewide Deliberative Poll around critical issues related to the state’s economy, the environment and other topics affecting Michigan’s future leading up to the 2010 election.
Results from the poll include:
Support for increasing the sales tax went up by 14 points from 37% to 51%
Support for increasing the income tax went up by 18 points from 27% to 45%
Support for increasing the beer and wine tax was high both before and after deliberation (increasing from 66% to 68%)
Support for making Michigan a greener economy went up by 12 points from 55% to 67%
Support for increasing incentives for businesses to produce green products and services went up by 15 points from 60% to 75%
Conventional polls represent the public’s surface impressions of sound bites and headlines. Deliberative Polling®, by contrast, is an attempt to use social science to reveal what the public would think if it were more engaged and informed. Scientific samples are convened to deliberate under transparently good conditions for considering the issue—vetted and balanced briefing materials, small group discussions with trained moderators, questions from the small groups directed to competing experts and confidential questionnaires before and after deliberation. Along with other dignitaries, the participants heard from Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm and University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman.
“One of the most interesting findings of the event is that after being informed and deliberating, these individuals wanted to raise taxes that impact their lives directly, like the income and sales taxes, and cut taxes they only see indirectly, like the business tax,” said Dr. James Fishkin, director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy, Stanford University. “They were willing to accept the pain of tax increases if that might help the state’s difficult financial situation. Instead of a ‘top of the head’ sound bite poll, this Deliberative Poll showed what the people would think if they really grappled with these hard issues in depth.”
Fishkin said one of the reasons the participants were willing to accept a tax increase is because they recognized a need to maintain essential services provided by government like education, healthcare and pensions.
Another major finding of the poll is the participants’ change of opinion on the environment. Participants increased support for a number of green incentives including businesses producing green products and services, tax credits for energy efficient homes and businesses, creating and maintaining state parks and requiring a greater percentage of electricity come from renewable energy.
Dan Werner, executive producer of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, said the participants were selected to be a random, representative sample of Michigan’s population. He noted that one of the most interesting elements of the deliberation is that the participants generated ideas without being urged in a particular direction.
“We wanted to know what people thought and were not driving them toward any particular conclusion,” Werner said. “We want this conversation to contribute to the discussion about the future of Michigan. The goal of a deliberative poll is not necessarily to come to consensus, but it was interesting that we were able to see participants come together on so many issues.”
Anne Mosle, vice president of programs for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, said this project is part of the Kellogg Foundation’s effort to engage communities and Michigan residents in their efforts to create the conditions for success for vulnerable children.
“We believe there is no separation between the future of children, the future of our state and of our nation,” Mosle said. “We supported this project because we believe that this is a powerful new approach to stimulating community engagement and we will continue to seek out innovative efforts that create more open dialogue on the critical choices facing our state.”