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Abstract

Normative theories of deliberative democracy stake claims that deliberation, if done correctly, can enhance citizens’ trust in authorities, foster a greater understanding of political issues and the element of compromise in politics, and increase the legitimacy of the political system overall. Skeptics point out that public deliberations seldom fully satisfy the communicative criteria stipulated in normative theory, raising the question: to what extent may we expect imperfect deliberations to generate the promised civic goods? This article proposes a framework for answering this question and also offers a few preliminary answers. The empirical analyses build on an opinion survey conducted in the wake of a series of public meetings that varied in the extent to which they lived up to normative standards of deliberative democracy. The meetings centered around whether to continue construction on a railway tunnel near the town of Båstad in southwestern Sweden. The findings suggest that even imperfect deliberation may have the potential to generate civic goods, though the analyses also raise doubts regarding the durability of the positive effects as well as the extent to which they will develop uniformly among participants.

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