Intersubjectively Relevant Information: An Account of Citizen-centered Information and Communication in Democratic Deliberation about Ballot Initiatives

Open Access
Author:
Richards, Robert Charles
Graduate Program:
Communication Arts and Sciences
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
March 04, 2016
Committee Members:
  • John W Gastil, Dissertation Advisor
  • John W Gastil, Committee Chair
  • James Dillard, Committee Member
  • James Hogan, Committee Member
  • Christopher Jon Zorn, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • democratic deliberation
  • political communication
  • legal communication
  • political cognition
  • sense-making
Abstract:
In deliberative-democratic theory, some authors have referred to a type of information—which is especially relevant to the interests, values, and personal characteristics of citizens—that when introduced into citizens’ policy discussions can foster democratic deliberation and beneficial outcomes of such deliberation. In this dissertation, that type of information, labeled “intersubjectively relevant information” (IRI), is conceptualized. The dissertation then presents a theoretical framework that posits explanations for IRI’s role in fostering deliberation among citizens in the context of ballot-initiative elections, as well as desirable changes in those citizens’ knowledge, attitudes, policy choices, and political efficacy. Then the empirical basis of the concept of IRI in the United States is established through a series of studies. These studies examine government lawyers’ practices for communicating about the legal aspects of proposed laws to official lawmakers who are not lawyers, citizens’ communication practices when deliberating about proposed ballot initiatives, and undergraduates’ categorizations of statements by those citizens about legal aspects of ballot initiatives. Next, the extent to which IRI is actually used by governments in direct-democratic processes is assessed through an empirical analysis of official summaries of U.S. statewide ballot initiatives from 2000 through 2012. Finally, the effects of exposing citizens to IRI that has been incorporated into official summaries of ballot initiatives are examined in two controlled experiments. The dissertation concludes by summarizing results of the empirical studies, detailing a revised empirical model of the role of IRI in citizen deliberation, discussing avenues for further research on the role of information in democratic deliberation, and proposing reforms to ballot-initiative election procedures suggested by the results of the research.