Producers of the Presidential Debates, which are broadcast across the United States at every election, hope to come to Manchester next month where the world's first experiment in deliberative polling will take place. The same method could then be used in the next US presidential election.
Deliberative polling involves selecting a national random sample of citizens, taking them to a single place where they can read briefing papers, discuss the issues, talk directly with political leaders and then give their views based on an informed knowledge of the subject.
The aim is to move away from conventional opinion polling which was discredited at the last general election.
This first experiment in deliberative polling, sponsored and organised by the Independent, Granada TV and Channel 4, takes place over a weekend in Manchester next month.
Four hundred people from across the United Kingdom will debate crime in Britain and ways of reducing it. Some of the discussions will be broadcast and reported in the Independent.
Many of the sample have already been selected. Social & Community Planning Research, an independent social research institute, has been making visits to houses in 40 parliamentary constituencies, distributing questionnaires and initial surveys which ask among other things whether the respondents have had any personal experience of crime. These initial surveys will be contrasted with surveys taken at the end of the Manchester weekend when the respondents are better informed about the issue.
The result aims to show how the public would vote and think on issues if it had a better chance to become informed about and debate the questions involved.
The concept is based on the work of the American political scientist, Professor James Fishkin, who argued the case for deliberative polling in his book, New Directions for Democratic Reform (Yale University Press).
He said yesterday: 'I have had talks with the producers of the presidential debates. They want to study the Manchester experiment and plan to come over for it. They hope to have a deliberative poll in America in January 1996 before any of the presidential primaries.'
He added that the selection process going on for the Manchester weekend had no element of self-selection. A random sample was being invited and would have their expenses paid.
'Methodologically it is being done in exactly the right way. It is a lottery. It's just like the lotteries in ancient Athens that were used for juries or
legislative commissions,' he said.