The Value of Public Forums
On June 26, 2010 57 town hall meetings were held simultaneously in cities all across the country. The 3500 American participants spanned a wide spectrum of ages, ethnicities, religions and political affiliations. They discussed and learned about ways to reduce the federal budget. They were presented with 42 options that had been developed by a national advisory committee, and were encouraged to suggest additional options to meet the deficit cutting goal.
When the votes were tallied, a vast majority – 85 percent of participants – expressed support for cutting the defense budget by at least five percent. More than half favored reducing defense spending by at least 15 percent. More than six in ten participants expressed support for reducing health care spending by at least five percent. No options for reducing Social Security benefits received a majority of support.
These public forums demonstrate that public discussion of issues can be a valuable way to make public policy decisions. When people listen to understand rather than to influence others they find that they often have more in common than they previously believed.
The forums are summarized and analyzed in a report entitled The Difference That Deliberation Makes – Evaluating the “Our Budget, Our Economy” Public Deliberation.
In January and February 2011 The Stennis Institute at Mississippi State University will be conducting a series of forums around Mississippi in co-sponsorship with local mayors on a similar subject. It will be interesting to see what Mississippians think about the future of their economic security.