This work revisits and expands upon Yankelovich¹s seminal 1991 book, Coming to Public Judgment
, which argued that people advance through several distinct stages to form politically meaningful judgments about public issues. In particular, citizens must "work through" the temptation to opt for easy answers or engage in wishful thinking, reconcile conflicting values, and come to terms with tough tradeoffs, before they can truly support a new course of action. The present work examines these themes in light of changing societal conditions, from the advent of the Internet and the weakening of traditional media to the proliferation of urgent and complex problems that cannot be put off without courting disaster.
In his lead chapter, Dan Yankelovich urges us to move away from a "misleading model of public opinion" that "dominates the expert culture of our society, including journalists, scientists, business leaders, scholars, professional experts, and political leaders." He and the other contributors (Will Friedman, Keith Melville, Robert Kingston, Alison Kadlec, Steven A. Rosell, and Heidi Gantwerk) describe methods used by organizations like Public Agenda, National Issues Forums, and Viewpoint Learning, Inc., to advance the public's learning curve through various forms of civic engagement, education, dialogue and deliberation.
They provide case studies of education reform in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and math and science initiatives in the Kansas City area, and examples of programs that have focused on issues ranging from energy and health care to US-Muslim relations. One chapter is a dialogue between Yankelovich and Friedman.
While our political culture resonates to the public's desire for a stronger voice, it fails to ensure that this voice reflects anything more than the spin, spectacle, and excessive partisanship that dominate today's public discourse. Toward Wiser Public Judgment offers insights and strategies to counteract these troubling trends.