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John Gastil Portrait

Professor

Communication Arts & Sciences and Political Science Senior Scholar, the McCourtney Institute for Democracy
The Pennsylvania State University

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Research

Topic Map

Research Topic Map Civil society and protest groups Communication in small groups The Australian Citizens' Parliament Jury behavior The Democracy Machine (online platform) The Group in society Democracy in Small Groups Civic Engagment The Jury and Democracy Group Decision Making Governance Theory and Practice of deliberative democracy Political Communication and Deliberation Delib. Democracy Handbook Democracy in Motion By Popular Demand The Citizens' Initiative Review Public forums, civic education, political socialization Direct Democracy
Sortition as an alternative to elections Participedia.net Public opinion and civic attitudes Public Opinion and Atts. Elections Cultural Cognition Project Voter Behavior, election dynamics, and campaings

Public forums, civic education, and political socialization

My research on “issues forums” shows the impact of participating in informal discussions on current public concerns. This continuing line of research extends back to my dissertation, “Democratic Citizenship and the National Issues Forums.” As a graduate student, I had discovered the National Issues Forums, which are now celebrating their 25th anniversary as a popular discussion format for bringing together community members, adult basic literacy students, and a range of social groups and professional organizations.
The Kettering Foundation, which designed the Forums, presumed that participating in their deliberative forums could transform private individuals with unreflective opinions into public citizens capable of making informed judgments.1 My research on the forums has borne out some—but not all—of the Foundation’s claims. Issues forums can teach deliberative skills and dispositions,2  but they have complex effects on public opinion. The Foundation’s aim was to encourage nuanced, non-ideological thinking through discussion, but one of the clearest effects I found is that deliberation can strengthen the ideological clarity of one’s views.3  If one goes into a forum on energy policy with somewhat liberal views, one is most likely to come out with more consistently liberal (and anti-conservative) views. This does not mean a person has become ideologically rigid across a range of issues; rather, deliberation promotes clear and consistent beliefs on a given topic, which is more likely a sign of attitudinal sophistication more than rigidity.
My research has also looked at the forces shaping public opinion beyond the relatively formal and crafted setting of an issues forum. One study shows how political conversations can develop issue-specific knowledge to the extent they are deliberative (respectful, balanced) exchanges,4  and another study examines how deliberative conversational habits can grow out of other forms of political engagement and civic attitudes.5

I have continued researching along these lines since 2006, primarily by examining the relationship between political and civic participation, particularly in the form of informal deliberation and sanctioned jury service, and subsequent changes in individual civic attitudes, with an intent on identifying those institutional characteristics that best promote an informed, engaged and pragmatic citizenry. I most directly examine this in Of attitudes and engagement: Clarifying the reciprocal relationship between civic attitudes and political participation (2010), but also in:
Brinker, D., Gastil, J., & Richards, R. (2015). Inspiring and informing citizens online: A media richness analysis of varied civic education modalities. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 20, 504-519.
Knobloch, K., & Gastil, J. (2015). Experiencing a civic (re)socialization: The educative effects of deliberative participation. Politics, 35, 183-200.
Warren, M., & Gastil, J. (2015). Can deliberative minipublics address the cognitive challenges of democratic citizenship? Journal of Politics, 77, 562-574.
Reedy, J., Wells, C., & Gastil, J. (2014). How voters become misinformed: An investigation of the emergence and consequences of false factual beliefs. Social Science Quarterly, 95, 1399-1418.
Gastil, J., Fukurai, H., Anderson, K., & Nolan, M. (2013). Seeing is believing: The impact of jury service on attitudes toward legal institutions and the implications for international jury reform. Court Review, 48, 125-130.
Gastil, J., Bacci, C., Dollinger, M. (2010). Is deliberation neutral? Exploring patterns of attitude change during "The Deliberative Polls." Journal of Public Deliberation, 6(2). 
Gastil, J., Lingle, C.J., & Dees, C. P. (2010). Deliberation and global criminal justice: Juries in the International Criminal CourtEthics & International Affairs, 24, 69-90.
Gastil, J., Black, L., Deess, E. P, & Leighter, J. (2008). From group member to democratic citizen: How deliberating with fellow jurors reshapes civic attitudesHuman Communication Research, 34, 137-169.
Gastil, J., Black, L., & Moscovitz, K. (2008). Ideology, attitude change, and deliberation in small face-to-face groupsPolitical Communication, 25, 23-36.
Gastil, J., Deess, E. P., Weiser, P., & Meade, J. (2008). Jury service and electoral participation: A test of the participation hypothesisJournal of Politics, 70, 1-16.
Hickerson, A., & Gastil, J. (2008). Assessing the difference critique of deliberation: Gender, emotion, and the jury experienceCommunication Theory18, 281-303.
Gastil, J., Burkhalter, S., & Black, L. (2007). Do juries deliberate? A study of deliberation, individual difference, and group member satisfaction at a municipal courthouseSmall Group Research38, 337-359.
Gastil, J., & Weiser, P. (2006). Jury service as an invitation to citizenship: Assessing the civic value of institutionalized deliberation. Policy Studies Journal34, 605-627.
Also recently, an investigation finds that Deliberative Polls do not have a clear ideological skew in how they shift public opinion, though the polls have tended to steer participants toward more collectivist leanings.6 


1  Gastil, J., & Dillard, J. P. (1999). The aims, methods, and effects of deliberative civic education through the National Issues Forums. Communication Education48, 179-192.
2  Gastil, J. (2004). Adult civic education through the National Issues Forums: A study of how adults develop civic skills and dispositions through public deliberation. Adult Education Quarterly54, 308-328.
3  Gastil, J., Black, L., & Moscovitz, K. (2008). Ideology, attitude change, and deliberation in small face-to-face groups.Political Communication, 25, 23-36.
4  Gastil, J. (2006). How balanced discussion shapes knowledge, public perceptions, and attitudes: A case study of deliberation on the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Journal of Public Deliberation, 2.
5  Moy, P., & Gastil, J. (2006). Discussion networks, media use, and deliberative conversation. Political Communication, 23, 443-460.
 Gastil, J., Bacci, C., Dollinger, M. (2010). Is deliberation neutral? Exploring patterns of attitude change during "The Deliberative Polls." Journal of Public Deliberation, 6(2). 


  

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