Letter from the Editor

Eike Mark Rinke
Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES), University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany

Welcome to a very special issue of the Political Communication Report. It is my pleasure to congratulate Björn Buß (Leuphana U of Lüneburg, Germany) and Louisa Imperiale (American U, Washington, DC) on their selection as new webmaster and editor of PCR (Björn) and manager of the divisions’ social media (Louisa). They will come in with fresh ideas and energy to their positions in January and we can all look forward to seeing them develop our divisions’ communications further during the next three years. See here for more.

As I pass the baton to Björn and Louisa, let me thank the many contributors to the newsletter, who have been gracious with their time to fill the series of PCR features we have published during the last years. I should also like to thank the leadership of the divisions as well. A special thanks goes out to student assistant Max Van Poele, who volunteered to help making everything that happened during the last year of my tenure a reality. Most importantly, I would like to thank all of you in the community of political communication scholars who have contributed to our platforms, offered words of appreciation or just made good use of what the information we have offered there for you. All of you have made the work put into the newsletter and divisions’ social media offerings during the last three years rewarding. It has been a pleasure to serve you by bringing relevant information to you and highlighting your work as division members. Thank you!

My final “letter from the editor” seems like a good occasion to take a brief look back at where we came from and where we stand now. The goal three years ago was to develop our online communications into an information service tailored to the interests of political communication scholars, including everyone from the most senior luminary in the field to the most junior college student.

Looking at the growth—in audience numbers, professionalism, intellectual diversity, and community engagement—we have seen during the last years, especially on our social media channels, I think we have come a long way towards that goal. Our Facebook group today is the largest of all 47 APSA sections and 31 ICA divisions/interest groups with its 2000+ members. Our Twitter community, with its more than 1.5k followers also is the largest of any APSA section and the second largest of all ICA divisions and interest groups (only the Ethnicity & Race in Communication division has a more popular presence). As our channels grew over the years, they began to form what, I think, today are the most important information gateways for political communication scholars worldwide.

An important part of the phenomenal growth has come about because we have tried to provide an information service that, while remaining faithful to our core activity of explaining and understanding the many aspects of political communication, is useful not only to our core constituency of political communication scholars in the social science tradition but also open to other methodologies and epistemologies, including rhetoric, social movement scholarship and others, as well as open geographically, including information relevant to and coming from scholars in all corners of the world.

With our new focus on social media, we have also started the PolComm Publication Friday series and a more extensive documentation and promotion of our division events on Flickr and Twitter. We have also switched from three to two PCR issues per year to reflect the new focus on our social media communications: PCR has evolved to feature less ephemeral information of general interest and more information on the work in our divisions and by our members as well as pointed discussion that should be of lasting interest to our community.

With this double issue, we bring to you new content (more on that below). But most importantly we finally launch the new design for our joint APSA-ICA PolComm website. It has long been time to send our old site into its well-deserved retirement. While long in the making, I am confident that the waiting has been worth it. The site now has a clean, modern look and offers a responsive design that makes it easy to use on small-screen devices like smartphones and tablets. Users can also see the latest information published through our Facebook group on our homepage, making it easy to track new information from the divisions without visiting Facebook. We have cleaned up the whole site and hope it is more usable and easy on the eyes. While not everything is in place yet – a new logo for our divisions is still to come – we do hope and are confident that the new site will be a big and lasting advancement of our divisions’ online communications.

But let us look at the present: What’s in the new issue of PCR before you? For this special occasion, we have produced four features that, I hope, will be of interest to many of you.

  1. Our feature on Fresh Perspectives in Political Deliberation Research is a collection of six essays that bring in leading scholars working in this most encompassing, diverse, and dynamic area of political communication research. If you are interested in some of the newest developments in research on deliberation, this feature is for you:
    1. André Bächtiger and Marina Lindell introduce an approach to “benchmarking” in deliberation research: comparing discussions in different types of forums—like parliaments and deliberative mini-publics—by transforming “best practice” cases into benchmarks for deliberative quality.
    2. Valentin Gold, Annette Hautli-Janisz, Katharina Holzinger, and Mennatallah El-Assady spotlight another methodological frontier in deliberation research: the use of automated tools to estimate the deliberative quality of political communication. They introduce their “VisArgue” project, a suite of methods—soon to be available to everyone—for the automated analysis of discussions transcripts.
    3. Rousiley C. M. Maia argues that political recognition and the everyday political conversations of citizens should be central themes of a deliberation research that fits the contemporary hybrid communication environment.
    4. Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud argues that deliberation research can be made to uncover possibilities for improving public discourse and shows how the work of her and her team can help us understand the conditions under which productive discussions of citizens in user comment sections flourish most.
    5. Hartmut Wessler argues how and why deliberation researchers will do well to continue their recent moves to go comparative and contrast the systems of mediated deliberation in different countries.
    6. Finally, Iain Walker brings a practitioner’s perspective into the discussion as he questions the tendency of deliberation scholars to falsely, as he sees it, view deliberative democracy as a project mainly of and for the political left.
  2. We feature the most successful division members of the last year, in our—now almost traditional—Award Winner Interviews. What better way to prepare for the 2017 conference cycle than to get to know hopeful new talent and prolific faculty in our field as they answer questions about their award-winning work and their experiences at our conference events?
    1. 2016 ICA Political Communication Best Student Paper Award: Carina Weinmann
    2. 2016 ICA Political Communication Best Faculty Paper Award: Lukas Otto
    3. 2016 APSA Timothy Cook Best Graduate Student Paper Award: Nicolas M. Anspach
    4. 2016 APSA Paul Lazarsfeld Best Paper Award: Yanna Krupnikov & Adam Levine
  3. We set our eyes on the future and give to you our ICA 2017 PolComm Preconference Teasers. We asked the organizers of the six preconferences sponsored by our division at ICA 2017 (San Diego, CA, 25-29 May) that still have a running submission deadline to describe what their event is all about. Check out the feature and see if we have a preconference that speaks to your work and interests.
    1. Political Communication Division PhD Student Preconference
    2. Populism, Post-Truth Politics and Participatory Culture: Interventions in the Intersection of Popular and Political Communication
    3. Normative Theory in Communication Research
    4. Media Performance and Democracy – The Debate Continues
    5. Online and Newsworthy: Have Digital Sources Changed Journalism?
    6. Political Communication in the Online World: Empirical Findings and Theoretical Perspectives
  4. We want to pay tribute to one of the most eminent, progressive voices of the last decades in our field, one that we will miss very much, the past chair of our ICA division Kevin G. Barnhurst, who passed away last year. In our Obituary for Kevin Barnhurst, we reprint in his honor
    1. the Obituary by John Nerone, his close collaborator of many years; and
    2. the Final Chapter of Mister Pulitzer and the Spider, Kevin’s last book, in which he proposes a new realism to revive a journalism stricken by existential crisis in the digital era.

Finally, this issue—and my tenure as editor of PCR and the divisions’ webmaster and social media manager—introduces to you and welcomes our new online communications officers, Björn Buß and Louisa Imperiale.

You can navigate the entire issue by using the navigation menu to the right or on top of the screen (depending on the size of your display).

I hope you will enjoy all that the issue offers to you.

It has been a privilege to serve as our community’s newsletter editor, webmaster, and social media manager. I wish Björn and Louisa all the best for their terms. With them, I am sure we will further grow as a community of scholars centered around the communication platforms sustained by our divisions.

Eike Mark Rinke (PhD, Mannheim) is a postdoctoral Research Associate in the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES) at the University of Mannheim, Germany.

Welcome to Our 2017-19 Communications Officers

Eike Mark Rinke
Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES), University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany

On 31 December 2016, my tenure as editor of the Political Communication Report, your webmaster for politicalcommunication.org, and social media manager for our divisions ended. Luckily, we have won two highly motivated and capable individuals, Björn Buß and Louisa Imperiale, who have assumed these positions for the next three years. I think we can all look forward to the fresh ideas and energy Björn and Louisa will bring to their respective positions as our new APSA/ICA PolComm communications officers. To help you getting to know them, we have put up brief biographies of theirs below.

A warm welcome and all the best for your new positions to both of you, Björn and Louisa!

Björn Buß: New politicalcommunication.org Webmaster and Editor of the Political Communication Report

Björn Buß is a final-year PhD candidate at Leuphana University Lüneburg (Germany), where he conducts comparative research on media exposure and political engagement, under the supervision of Prof. Christian Welzel. He has been the spokesperson for the largest and longest standing network of students and early-career scholars in political communication in German-speaking countries, NapoKo, an official affiliate of the German Communication Association (DGPuK) and the German Political Science Association (DVPW). In this position, Björn has gathered lots of experience serving the communications needs of the political communication community, including the organization of annual workshops for early-career scholars in political communication.

Prior to joining us as the new webmaster of our website politicalcommunication.org and new editor of the Political Communication Report, Björn has worked as a communications officer for the World Values Survey Association, whose successful Facebook and Twitter channels he helped found.

He holds an M.A. degree in communication studies and economics from the University of Greifswald. His research work on media-political parallelism, citizens’ media use and their political participation has been presented at a variety of conferences. Björn has also taught a number of classes on political culture, media systems, and research methods at Leuphana’s Institute of Political Science.

You can contact Björn via email and/or follow him on Twitter.

Louisa Imperiale: New Social Media Manager of the APSA & ICA Political Communication Divisions

Louisa Imperiale is a veteran political fundraiser and current Ph.D. student at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C. After spending fifteen years funneling money into U.S. politics – and observing its corrupting, outsized influence firsthand – her academic work in Political Communication now focuses on getting money out of politics.

Prior to pursuing her Ph.D., Louisa coordinated major donor fundraising for the Republican Party, serving as the Director of the Republican Regents and Team 100 programs for the Republican National Committee and as Director of Development for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In addition, Louisa has extensive campaign experience, having served as Finance Director for a $30M Senatorial race and a $100M Gubernatorial campaign, and as Deputy Finance Director for a Presidential campaign in 2012.

She holds a Master of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts degree from The University of Alabama and attended the Executive Masters in Leadership program at Georgetown University. She is also an alumnus of the American Council of Young Political Leaders, the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University, and was honored to attend the 5th International Summer School in Political Communication and Electoral Behavior at the University of Milan, where she presented her work on political privacy. Louisa serves as a Board member for Running Start, which works to inspire and train the next generation of young women political leaders.

Louisa is a frequent public speaker and commentator on the topics of politics, entrepreneurship, technology, leadership, strategy, marketing, communication, fundraising, and philanthropy. She is very excited to be teaching Understanding Media at American University this semester. After 16 years of living in Washington, D.C., Louisa considers herself a proud Washingtonian, and enjoys taking advantage of the District’s cultural institutions with her husband and two young children. 

You can contact Louisa via email, through our Facebook website and/or follow her on Twitter.

“Benchmarking” Deliberative Quality across Sites

André Bächtigera and Marina Lindellb
aInstitute of Social Sciences, University of Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany
bSocial Science Research Institute (Samforsk), Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland

The goal of this article is to better know high deliberative quality when we see it, whereby we use a best practice case to “benchmark” deliberative quality across various sites. To date, empirical research on deliberation has not come up with “threshold” values for high and low deliberative quality. In a review of research on deliberative democracy based on the Discourse Quality Index (DQI; Steiner, Bächtiger, Spörndli, & Steenbergen, 2004), Dryzek (2007, p. 244) notes: “In applying the discourse quality index, it is hard to say whether the deliberation in any of the cases analyzed is actually good enough by any theoretical standards. The index is just a comparative measure.” Yet absolute standards for deliberative quality may be exceedingly difficult to obtain since it would require that we set cut values for the various dimensions of deliberative quality. For instance, we would need to know how often actors must provide qualified or sophisticated justification in order to classify a complete debate as “reasoned.”

Therefore, we draw on research on democratization and democratic quality and identify “best practice” cases which can serve as “benchmarks” to judge high deliberative quality (e.g., Bühlmann et al. 2012). We compare the deliberative quality in the context of two sites – parliament and a deliberative mini-public – using the same measurement instrument, the Discourse Quality Index (DQI; Steiner et al., 2004) and focusing on the same indicators, namely justification rationality, common good orientation, and respect toward counterarguments.

With regard to parliament, we use, first, a “best-practice” case, namely a Swiss debate on a new language article in the Constitution in the 1990s. This debate was conducted under “optimal institutional” conditions in politics – political actors deliberating in a committee behind closed doors in a consensus system on a low polarized issue including a motivation to find a solution that all linguistic groups could accept (Pedrini, Bächtiger, & Steenbergen, 2013).

Second, we single out four committee sessions on the language article that independent coders deemed as approaching deliberative ideals (including one session that was judged as “truly deliberative”; Bächtiger, Pedrini, & Ryser, 2010).

Third, we also consider a wide range of parliamentary debates coded in the project of Steiner et al. (2004); this involves a purposive sample of plenary and committee debates from the late 1980s and 1990s in Switzerland, Germany, the U.S. and the UK. The debates involved polarized issues such as socio-economic policies, moral issues such as abortion, and less polarized issues such as animal welfare. With regard to deliberative mini-publics, we focus on the “gold standard,” namely a deliberative poll. Deliberative polls provide supportive institutional conditions, which means that citizens get balanced information material, experts answer citizens’ questions, and facilitators ensure that small group discussions keep to the topic and are focused on all the arguments. Specifically, we draw on data from thirteen discussion groups conducted as part of Europolis, a transnational deliberative poll carried out in Brussels in May 2009 on the topic of (third-country) migration (Gerber, Bächtiger, Shikano, Reber, & Rohr, in press). In a way, Europolis could also form a “best practice case” for citizen deliberation since it provided participants with highly supportive institutional conditions for deliberative action; yet given the dearth of coded data on deliberative quality in mini-publics, we use Europolis only as a contrast case.

Table 1 displays major differences across institutional and issue conditions as well as sites. We first see that the Swiss committee debates on language policy excel relative to all other debates. This is especially true if one considers the four debate sequences which external coders identified as instances of “good” or even “true” deliberation. Here, the total amount of sophisticated justifications is 68 percent, common-good statements are at 31 percent, and common good statements and explicit respect is at 39%. This is much higher compared to the average of parliamentary debates analyzed in Steiner et al. (2004), where the respective scores were 39% (sophisticated justifications), 15% (common good orientation) and 13% (explicit respect).

The gap between the “best practice” case and the Europolis discussions among European citizens is quite large as well: in the latter, sophisticated justifications hover around 10%, whereas common good statements and explicit respect are at about 16%. But the Europolis discussions reveal an intriguing pattern: while justification rationality is lower than the average of all coded parliamentary debates, respect levels display a reversed trend: disrespectful speech is far less common in Europolis (4% vs. 24% in parliamentary debates), and explicit respect is also slightly higher in the Europolis discussions (16% vs. 12%). Finally, with regard to common good orientation, there are few differences between Europolis and parliamentary debates (including the “best practice” case), with common good orientation hovering around 15-20%. Overall, Table 1 not only shows the importance of sites for deliberative quality, it also provides us with some “benchmarks” for assessing high quality deliberation.

Table 1 (part 1): Deliberative quality in different sites

  No Justification Inferior Justification Qualified Justifcation Sophisticated Justification In-depth
(N = 943)
18.5 39.2 32.2 9.2 0.9
Best practice case
(N = 158)
10.1 12.7 24.1 45.6 7.6
“Best practice” case
(4 sequences)
(N = 100)
5.0 8.0 19.0 56.0 12.0
Parliamentary Debates (Swiss, US, German, UK)
(N = 4805)
14.7 17.9 29.1 30.1 8.6

Table 1 (part 2): Deliberative quality in different sites

  Group Interests Common Good Interests No Respect Implicit Respect Explicit Respect
(N = 943)
8.8 15.7 4.2 79.9 15.9
Best practice case
(N = 158)
10.1 22.2 9.5 64.6 26.0
“Best practice” case
(4 sequences)
(N = 100)
12.0 31.0 7.0 54.0 39.0
Parliamentary Debates (Swiss, US, German, UK)
(N = 4805)
5.0* 14.8* 23.6 71.8 11.7

Notes: Numbers are percentages; * N = 3202; Data from Steiner et al. (2004), Bächtiger et al. (2010) and Gerber et al. (in press).

However, an important question is whether different sites and especially citizens and elites should be assessed by the same set of quality standards. As Mansbridge (1999) writes: “the larger deliberative system … should be judged by much the same standards as classic deliberation in assemblies. Those standards must be loosened to accommodate the more informal character of the nongovernmental parts of the deliberative system, but in this loosening they do not lose their character.” Indeed, we cannot expect citizens to reach the same rationality levels than professional politicians who have both the time and material resources to engage intensively with an issue at hand. But the fact that Europolis discussions score higher on respect than average parliamentary debates is intriguing, also from a normative point of view: it seems that citizens realize ethical goals of deliberation (respect) which are not adequately fulfilled in the representative realm of politics (see also Pedrini, 2014).  

However, the figures presented in Table 1 do not take into account the deliberative functions of the various sites (Bächtiger & Beste, in press). From this perspective, the finding that parliamentary debates on average display fairly low levels on the various deliberative indicators may not be a normative deficiency: a contextual perspective would emphasize that public parliamentary debate is not about reflection or respect, but about “robust reasoning” where actors provide extensive elaboration on why ´x´ leads to ´y´. The fact that sophisticated justification rationality is quite substantial (more than 30%) in legislatures (even in polarized plenary debates) is an indication that this function is “in action.” By the same token, the fact that deliberative quality is much higher behind closed doors is desirable from a functional perspective as well. When pressures of representation are reduced and governing logics (including demands for agreement) set it, we can expect deliberative virtues – such as listening and respect – to flourish more.

To conclude, the “benchmarking” of deliberative quality is still in its infancy; we not only need (comparable) data from many more sites (and over time), we also need novel theoretical thinking of what high and low quality deliberation means in the context of various sites of a democratic system. Nonetheless, our article provides a first (and modest) attempt to better identify instances of high deliberative quality when we see them in the real world.

Notes on contributors

André Bächtiger (PhD, Bern) is chair of Political Theory at the University of Stuttgart, Germany. His research focuses on the challenges of mapping and measuring deliberation both in representative institutions and mini-publics.

Marina Lindell (PhD, Åbo Akademi) is a postdoctoral researcher at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. Her scholarship focuses on deliberation, opinion formation, and social psychology.


Bächtiger, A., & Beste, S. (in press). Deliberative citizens, (non-)deliberative politicians, and what that means for democracy: A rejoinder to false distinctions and outdated assumptions in deliberative and democratic thinking. Daedalus.

Bächtiger, A., Pedrini, S., & Ryser, M. (2010). Prozessanalyse politischer Entscheidungen: Deliberative Standards, Diskurstypen und Sequenzialisierung. In J. Behnke, T. Bräuninger, & S. Shikano (Eds.), Schwerpunkt Neuere Entwicklungen des Konzepts der Rationalität und ihre Anwendungen (pp. 193–226). Wiesbaden, Germany: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Bühlmann, M., Merkel, W., Müller, L., & Weßels, B. (2012). The Democracy Barometer: A new instrument to measure the quality of democracy and its potential for comparative research. European Political Science, 11(4), 519–536. https://doi.org/10.1057/eps.2011.46

Dryzek, J. S. (2007). Theory, evidence, and the tasks of deliberation. In S. W. Rosenberg (Ed.), Deliberation, participation and democracy: Can the people govern? (pp. 237–250). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gerber, M., Bächtiger, A., Shikano, S., Reber, S., & Rohr, S. (in press). Deliberative abilities and influence in a transnational deliberative poll (EuroPolis). British Journal of Political Science. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007123416000144

Mansbridge, J. (1999). Everyday talk in the deliberative system. In S. Macedo (Ed.), Deliberative politics: Essays on democracy and disagreement (pp. 211–239). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Pedrini, S., Bächtiger, A., & Steenbergen, M. R. (2013). Deliberative inclusion of minorities: Patterns of reciprocity among linguistic groups in Switzerland. European Political Science Review, 5(3), 483–512. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1755773912000239

Pedrini, S. (2014). Deliberative capacity in the political and civic sphere. Swiss Political Science Review, 20(2), 263–286. https://doi.org/10.1111/spsr.12074

Steiner, J., Bächtiger, A., Spörndli, M., & Steenbergen, M. R. (2004). Deliberative politics in action: Analyzing parliamentary discourse. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.


VisArgue: Analysis and Visualization of Deliberative Political Communication

Valentin Golda, Annette Hautli-Janiszb, Katharina Holzingerc, and Mennatallah El-Assadyd
aCenter of Methods in Social Sciences, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany
bDepartment of Linguistics, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany

cDepartment of Politics and Public Administration, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany
dDepartment of Computer and Information Science, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany

The VisArgue project is an interdisciplinary collaboration of political science, linguistics and information science at the University of Konstanz (principal investigators: Miriam Butt, Katharina Holzinger, Daniel Keim), funded by the “eHumanities” research initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Its main goal was the development of an automated measurement tool for the quality of deliberative communication.

The project has its theoretical foundations within the theory of deliberative democracy. Deliberative democracy promotes a form of democracy that is based on a consensus-oriented discourse instead of majority decisions and representation (Habermas, 1981; Gutmann & Thompson, 1996). At its core, the communication should be inclusive and based on extensive reasoning. Following Habermas, stakeholders participating in the discourse should be willing to adhere to “the unforced force of the better argument”.

While the empirical turn in deliberation research (Dryzek, 2000; Bächtiger, Niemeyer, Neblo, Steenbergen, & Steiner, 2010) has led to an increased understanding of deliberative decision-making, previous approaches rely on the application of manual coding schemes determining the deliberative quality within discourses (e.g. Steenbergen, Bächtiger, Spörndli, & Steiner, 2003; Wessler & Rinke, 2014). Only recently, the computational turn allows to analyze large quantities of text automatically. The VisArgue-project contributes to this turn by determining deliberative communication with automated means. We propose a novel linguistic and visual analytics toolbox that allows us to study deliberative communication in all its diverse aspects. This implies three questions:

  • Which factors determine the deliberative quality of political discourse?
  • How can we automatically detect and analyze these factors at the linguistic level?
  • How can we use visualization in order to make patterns of deliberative communication interpretable in large amounts of text?

Based on several variants of deliberative democracy (cf. Thompson, 2008), we distinguish four dimensions that are crucial for the concept of deliberative communication (Gold et al., 2015): Participation and Inclusion, Atmosphere and Respect, Argumentation and Justification, and Accommodation and Persuasion. These four dimensions are further subdivided in different subdimensions belonging to similar theoretical concepts.

The VisArgue framework is designed to support scholars of deliberation communication in various ways. First, we propose a wide range of visual analytics tools for the interactive exploration of discourses, e.g. Lexical Episode Plots (Gold, El-Assady, & Rohrdantz, 2015) and Conversation Topic Analysis (El-Assady, Gold, Acevedo, Collins, & Keim, 2016). For a demonstration of these tools, please see http://presidential-debates.dbvis.de. Second, we propose a computational linguistic parsing system annotating various measures for the four deliberative dimensions. These measures result from the application of natural language processing tools, unsupervised content extractions, dictionary applications, and statistical analyses.

As the justification of claims is the core of the concept of deliberation, our central indicators are discourse connectors that identify causal or contrastive argumentation. We distinguish causal (weil ‘because’), conditional (wenn-dann ‘if-then’) and adversative (aber ‘but’) connectors and are able to automatically identify the type and scope of argument and even its components (such as reason or conclusion). To arrive at this annotation, several rules have to be identified that allow for the reliable disambiguation of ambiguous connectors and the argumentative phrases (Bögel, Hautli-Janisz, Sulger, & Butt, 2014).

In order to explore and interpret the various measures of deliberative communication, we propose a glyph-based visualization that is based on the annotation system but abstracts from all annotations. In general, glyphs are small iconic representations of information that are used to represent the different occurrences of the same characteristics across units in the data. The glyph shown in Figure 1 mirrors the four dimensions of deliberative communication, with each quadrant representing one dimension. Each subdimension is represented as a row and each annotation within a subdimension is represented as a small tile (the actual measure). In order to show the average length of each utterance (our unit of analysis), we include a small circular icon on the bottom left of the glyph. This is scaled to the length of the underlying utterances, indicating the relative size of its text. Moreover, to facilitate the comparison between glyphs, we account for the different types and strengths of measures by different visual mappings. For instance, the tile “average sentence complexity” in Figure 1 is marked with a plus, indicating that this turn is characterized by a higher level of sentence complexity in comparison to the other turns. Likewise, for emotions: The minus signals more negative emotions compared to the other turns.

Figure 1: Deliberation glyph with four dimensions

The glyph-based visualization supports the exploration and interpretation of deliberative communication. By providing the possibility to aggregate the glyphs with respect to different variables, e.g. the position of speakers or over topics, the turns within the discourse can be compared, resulting in conclusions with respect to the degree of deliberation. Figure 2 illustrates the mediation on “Stuttgart 21”, a conflict about re-building the rail infrastructure in Southern Germany. Four political positions are shown: pro- and contra Stuttgart 21, neutral (the mediator), and expert opinions. While the middle column illustrates the complete glyph, the right column only shows causal argumentation (green tiles) constituting of reasons and conclusions.

The overview reveals that the arbitrator provides little argumentation; the experts mostly present reasons; the pro and con parties frequently use both components. From the other measures in the left column, we can conclude that the mediator acts professionally, as he – addressing the public – uses simple and polite language. Furthermore, he interrupts other speakers, keeps them to the topics, often formulates concessions and emphasizes agreements while rarely uttering dissent. The parties to the conflict are similarly polite, but emphasize positive emotions, have a high degree of argumentative speech and add new topics to the table, thereby advancing the dialog.

Figure 2: Deliberation glyphs for the four positions in the S21 arbitration

The VisArgue framework can be applied to foster deliberation analyses. In general, the complete framework of deliberative decision-making comprises of the antecedents for deliberation (input dimension), the dynamics (throughput dimension) of deliberation, and the consequences of deliberation (output dimension). While the VisArgue project contributes to measuring variables at the throughput dimension, for deliberation to be analyzed, it is important to include both antecendents and consequences in the statistical analyses.

Here, we briefly want to describe two of our applications. First, we apply the novel measures to the verbatim minutes of simulated debates in which participants had to take unanimous decision on a contested issue (Gold & Holzinger, 2015). For each speaker, we test the effects of deliberative standards on their perception by other participants. The results show that participants are the less often perceived as constructive speakers the less someone participates. Moreover, less eloquent participants and those participants that more often express opposition are more often seen as having blocked the decision-making process.

Second, we can show how personality traits influence deliberative quality (Gold, 2016). Based on the simulated data, we see that participants scoring high on openness show less adversative argumentation. Likewise, these participants less often express conditions – contrary to participants scoring high on agreeableness. We conclude that while designing political institutions to foster deliberative communication is a good start, we need to adopt a more disaggregated focus disentangling the causal effects on the dynamics of deliberation.

Notes on contributors

Valentin Gold (PhD, Konstanz) is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center of Methods in Social Sciences at the University of Göttingen, Germany. In his research he focuses on text-mining applications and deliberative communication.

Annette Hautli-Janisz (PhD, Konstanz) is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Konstanz, Germany. She has worked on various aspects of theoretical and computational linguistics, among them lexical semantics and discourse processing.

Katharina Holzinger (PhD, Augsburg) is Professor for International Politics and Conflict Management at the University of Konstanz, Germany. Her research focuses on deliberative democracy, traditional forms of governance and EU studies.

Mennatallah El-Assady is a PhD candidate in the Department of Computer and Information Science, University of Konstanz, Germany. Her research focuses on information visualization, natural language processing, and data mining.


El-Assady, M., Gold, V., Acevedo, C., Collins, C., & Keim, D. (2016). ConToVi: Multi-party conversation exploration using topic-space views. Computer Graphics Forum, 35(3), 431–440. https://doi.org/10.1111/cgf.12919

Bächtiger, A., Niemeyer, S., Neblo, M. A., Steenbergen, M. R., & Steiner, J. (2010). Disentangling diversity in deliberative democracy: Competing theories, their blind spots and complementarities. Journal of Political Philosophy, 18(1), 32–63. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9760.2009.00342.x

Bögel, T., Hautli-Janisz, A., Sulger, S., & Butt, M. (2014). Automatic detection of causal relations in German multilogs. In Proceedings of the EACL 2014 Workshop on Computational Approaches to Causality in Language (CAtoCL) (pp. 20–27). Gothenburg, Sweden: Association for Computational Linguistics. Retrieved from https://kops.uni-konstanz.de/handle/123456789/29255

Dryzek, J. S. (2000). Deliberative democracy and beyond: Liberals, critics, contestations. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Gold, V. (2016). Personality traits and debate quality. Presented at the Symposium ”Exploring ignorance: Acquisition, selection and processing of information”, Konstanz, Germany.

Gold, V., El-Assady, M., Bögel, T., Rohrdantz, C., Butt, M., Holzinger, K., & Keim, D. (2015). Visual linguistic analysis of political discussions: Measuring deliberative quality. Digital Scholarship in the Humanities. https://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqv033

Gold, V., & Holzinger, K. (2015). An automated text-analysis approach to measuring the quality of deliberative communication. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, CA.

Gold, V., Rohrdantz, C., & El-Assady, M. (2015). Exploratory text analysis using lexical episode plots. In E. Bertini, J. Kennedy, & E. Puppo (Eds.), Eurographics Conference on Visualization (EuroVis). The Eurographics Association. https://doi.org/10.2312/eurovisshort.20151130

Gutmann, A., & Thompson, D. F. (1996). Democracy and disagreement: Why moral conflict cannot be avoided in politics, and what should be done about it. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Habermas J. (1981). Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Suhrkamp.

Steenbergen, M. R., Bächtiger, A., Spörndli, M., & Steiner, J. (2003). Measuring political deliberation: A discourse quality index. Comparative European Politics, 1(1), 21–48. https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.cep.6110002

Thompson, D. F. (2008). Deliberative democratic theory and empirical political science. Annual Review of Political Science, 11, 497–520. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.11.081306.070555

Wessler, H., & Rinke, E. M. (2014). Deliberative performance of television news in three types of democracy: Insights from the United States, Germany, and Russia. Journal of Communication, 64(5), 827–851. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12115

How Honneth’s Recognition Theory Can Further Empirical Deliberation Research

Rousiley C. M. Maia
Department of Social Communication, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

A great number of studies on deliberative democracy have paid particular attention to a renewed relevance accorded to everyday talk, emotions, personal storytelling, and the so-called pre-political experience. Much of the debate has involved scholars contrasting their work with Habermas’ theoretical framework to explore different sorts of expressions that can enhance critical reflection and conditions to enable members of disadvantaged groups to be heard and have their particular experiences, values, and interests ​​understood. These studies typically argue that focusing only on argumentation and justification is restrictive. In this vein, a number of scholars – such as Andre Bächtiger, Jane Mansbridge, John Gastil, John Parkinson, Jürg Steiner, Tali Mendelberg, and Christopher Karpowitz, among others – have searched ways to build institutional initiatives and structure incentives for people and marginalized groups to deliberate, concentrating on mechanisms that can compensate for less than optimal conditions.

Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition – considered the third generation of critical theory – helps analyzing power and inequalities by taking account of meaning-making from the perspective of participants in social conflicts. Despite sharing several premises within the Frankfurt School tradition, Habermas’ and Honneth’s  research programs have developed side by side and have rarely intertwined in studies on deliberation. Recognition theory, by placing the notion of conflict between social groups and social struggle at the center of social philosophy, enables researchers to develop new interpretations and explanations of a number of issues in deliberative theory.  

For example, Axel Honneth’s research agenda can be regarded as a continuation of Habermas’ effort to provide access to a pre-scientific realm of moral critique. The need of citizens to more or less freely articulate their aspirations and interests, to acknowledge commonalities and differences and their commitment to others’ aims and the common good have long been a cornerstone of research on deliberation.  Deliberative scholars who investigate everyday talk and story-telling –  such as Jane Mansbridge, Laura Black, and Francesca Polletta (see also Steiner, Jaramillo, Maia, & Mameli, in press) to quote just a few –  are particularly concerned with what Habermas calls  “discovery of problems,” “interpretation of needs,” and “discourses aimed at achieving self-understanding” by  affected individuals and groups. In a book recently published by Palgrave Macmillan (Maia, 2014), I investigate how Honneth moves from Habermas’ work to construct a theory of recognition that links normative reflection and the concept of intersubjective conditions that are necessary for autonomy. Honneth’s political philosophy helps deepening and refining the understanding of individuals’ reactions to feelings of injustice, which are tied to plexuses of negative experiences in intimate, juridical, and social spheres. By articulating a broader notion of self-realization and inter-subjective dependency, the recognition-theoretical approach is particularly relevant to deliberative scholars concerned with emancipation of disadvantaged groups and political praxis aimed at achieving justice.  This book, developed in collaboration with six former doctoral students or postdoctoral fellowships and now colleagues, investigates some of the interfaces that the theory of recognition establishes with political communication and media studies.

In particular, the recognition-theoretical approach paves the way for researchers to tap into pre-political experience. In a study published in the European Political Science Review, my collaborator and I (Maia & Garcêz, 2014) explore how Honneth’s theory of recognition opens promising venues for exploring the role of emotion in politics and discursive engagement in deliberation. It investigates storytelling of deaf people gathered from two digital environments: a website sponsored by social movement organizations and an online social network site. While endorsing Honneth’s view that “feelings of injustice” are an important source for intelligibility of injustice, and that disadvantaged individuals need to build a “shared interpretative framework” in struggles for recognition, we argue that a more nuanced account of discursive justification is needed to deal with dissent and moral disagreement. This study shows how Habermas’ and Honneth’s theoretical frameworks can be jointly applied in empirical research to better equip researchers concerned with practices that aim to overcome injustice.

While most scholars support the view that deliberation is a rare phenomenon, critics should be more attentive to people’s motivations to engage in discussion and deliberation. Insofar as Honneth’s theory produces insights into various levels of individuals’ struggles to be seen by others as self-determining agents, not to be looked down upon, not to be considered as second-class citizens or treated unjustly in the sphere of work, one can find new explanations for why a person feels compelled to make oneself understood, and dispute conflicting values and interests. By re-appraising how individuals’ self-respect and self-esteem are linked to social conflict embedded in norms and political institutions, the recognition-theoretical approach aids in observing the critical potential for discussion and citizens’ willingness to deliberate in everyday life.  In previous studies concentrating on conflicts related to racism and homophobia (Maia & Rezende, 2016), we investigated how individuals engage in “moments of deliberation” not only with the “other,” but with “multiple others,” in a complex web of relations in society. Findings show that platforms with distinct affordances (YouTube, blogs, and Facebook) provide different opportunities and constraints for people to frame personal expressions and engage in discussion, in a conflictive field of respect as well as disrespect. While individuals are not completely free to decide what order of justification they will use in order to attempt to solve a certain problem, or challenge a particular judgment, results of this study published in the Journal of Computer-mediated Communication (Maia & Rezende, 2016) suggest that attacks on a personal level have a more deleterious impact on deliberation than offenses to others’ opinions. Disrespectful commenters are more likely to justify their claims; and depending on the targets of profanity, disrespect has varying effects on deliberation.

Honneth’s research program can also provide new insights to articulate domains that typically tend to be treated separately, such as critical sociology and political theory. Like Habermas, Honneth identifies a pre-theoretical basis to critique everyday life, but starts with the practical relationships of disrespected subjects and morally motivated struggles for expanded forms of recognition. Therefore, the recognition-theoretical approach captures the complexity of the interrelated dynamics of everyday talk, deliberation, mobilization, and activism, which are likely to be treated in separate fields of study. In an article published in the Journal of Political Power (Maia & Cal, 2014), we analyze patterns of recognition that are conveyed in legal rules and institutions as well as in actions of advocacy agents before they find expression in practices in a given lifeworld. In our case study, media professionals acted as agents of advocacy, following discourses against domestic child labor vocalized by NGOs and local social movements as well as nationwide and transnational entities. Prompted to reflect on them, women who worked in domestic labor in their childhood challenged the discourse of newspapers and defended this practice as useful for their self-development.  This study contributes to better understanding the conflictive assessment of justice and injustice by advocacy agents or political representatives and affected individuals. In this case, deliberative theory allows learning about how to achieve mutual understanding and clarifies what is to be taken into account and recognized in each particular social situation.

In yet other research (Maia & Vimieiro, 2015), we investigate the role of advocacy agents, social movements, and moral entrepreneurs to readjust cultural notions of the individualization and social inclusion of disabled people; and in bringing an ever-greater range of differences of values or ways of living to the public sphere. We analyze how the production and reproduction of public reasons help to re-arrange institutions in terms of recognition. Even when institutionalized, norms, rights, and policies are open to permanent contestation with the aim of disclosing flaws, limitations, and inadequate interpretations.

In summary, Honneth’s contributions can revitalize studies on everyday talk and deliberation within a network of governance (see also Mendonça & Maia, 2014). We have learned from political communication studies that in an increasingly hybrid media environment connections across governmental networks and social spaces are more intricate in contemporary societies. Therefore, everyday talk is arguably becoming ever more relevant for processes of politicization regarding the discovery of problematic situations, the conversion of topics into issues of public concern, and the public review of political decisions within deliberative systems (Maia, 2012, in press-a, in press-b).  I believe that the theory of recognition provides powerful insights for advancing research on deliberation; and that it poses a challenge to engage in more theory building and empirical investigation in the field of political communication.

Notes on contributor

Rousiley C. M. Maia (PhD, Nottingham) is a professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Her scholarship focuses on political communication, deliberative democracy, theory of recognition and justice. 


Maia, R. C. M. (2012). Deliberation, the media and political talk. New York, NY: Hampton Press.

Maia, R. C. M. (2014). Recognition and the media. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Maia, R. C. M. (in press-a). Politicization, new media, and everyday deliberation. In P. Fawcett, M. Flinders, C. Hay, & M. Wood (Eds.), Anti-politics, depoliticization, and governance. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Maia, R. C. M. (in press-b). Deliberative media. In A. Bächtiger, J. Dryzek, J. Mansbridge, & M. Warren (Eds.), Oxford handbook of deliberative democracy. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Maia, R. C. M., & Cal, D. (2014). Recognition and ideology: Assessing justice and injustice in the case of child domestic labor. Journal of Political Power, 7(1), 63–85. https://doi.org/10.1080/2158379X.2014.887543

Maia, R. C. M., & Garcêz, R. L. O. (2014). Recognition, feelings of injustice and claim justification: A case study of deaf people’s storytelling on the internet. European Political Science Review, 6(3), 359–382. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1755773913000143

Maia, R. C. M., & Rezende, T. A. S. (2016). Respect and disrespect in deliberation across the networked media environment: Examining multiple paths of political talk. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 21(2), 121–139. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcc4.12155

Maia, R. C. M., & Vimieiro, A. C. (2015). Recognition and moral progress: A case study about discourses on disability in the media. Political Studies, 63(1), 161–180. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9248.12083

Mendonça, R. F., & Maia, R. C. M. (2014). Recognition without struggles: The reporting on leprosy in Brazilian daily Newspapers.  In R. C. M. Maia, Recognition and the media (pp. 199-219). Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Steiner, J., Jaramillo, M. C., Maia, R. C. M., & Mameli, S. (in press). Deliberation across deeply divided societies: Transformative moments. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

News Comment Sections as Deliberative Sites?

Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud
Department of Communication Studies and Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation, University of Texas, Austin, TX, USA

Deliberative isn’t exactly the term one would use when thinking about news comment sections. Although optimists originally conceived of news comment sections as a space where people would come together and engage in civil discussions, the reality of the space is far from this ideal. In reality, comment sections are filled with incivility, irrelevance, intolerance, and a whole host of less-than-deliberative content. Just because many comment sections are this way, however, does not mean that they have to be. Over the past several years, I’ve been working with a team of faculty, students, and staff members at the Engaging News Project. The broad mission of the Project is to evaluate digital tools and strategies that improve news organizations’ digital presence. As part of this endeavor, we’ve conducted several analyses of news comment sections (an overview of this work is here).

News comment sections are important both practically and theoretically. Practically, comment sections are both a blessing and a curse for newsrooms. On the positive side, comment sections can provide feedback that can be useful for journalists and can be a source of revenue. Newsrooms that value their comment section often say that their commenters tend to be among the most loyal site visitors. On the negative side, comment sections can hurt the news brand, can affect what people take away from the journalism, and can demoralize news staff. Although several high profile news organizations have turned off their comments, others continue to invest in the space. We’ve talked to several news organizations that are thinking about what to do with the space, making scholarship about comment sections relevant to practitioners.

Theoretically, comment sections are important because they provide a real world context in which to examine many important communication theories without turning to the artificiality of the lab experiment or the unreliability of self-reports in a survey. Theories such as spiral of silence, motivated reasoning, and gatekeeping, for instance, can be investigated in these spaces. The shortcomings of comment sections as a deliberative space and ways to encourage interaction that more closely resembles deliberation also can be analyzed.

At the Engaging News Project, we have conducted several research projects with relevance to the practical questions facing newsrooms about how to manage comment sections and the theoretical questions attracting scholarly attention about what practices increase deliberation. Two steams of research most relevant to assessing deliberative outcomes are:

  1. How a Comment Section is Designed Affects Commenting Behavior. We’ve analyzed how comment sections are designed and whether different layouts can affect how people engage. A three-column comment section that more directly shows arguments for, against, and neither on an issue (a layout that draws inspiration from research on argument repertoire) can increase engagement in the comment section.¹ We also have analyzed how a change in layout of the New York Times comment section affected behavior in the comment section. The prominence of abuse flags, for instance, affects the extent to which people engage with them.
  2. How a Newsroom Interacts Affects Commenting Behavior. In one study, we found that having a prominent reporter engage in the comment section by answering and asking questions and encouraging deliberative conversation improved the civility of comments by around 15 percent. Although not a panacea, this practice does affect the tone of the conversation. We also have been surveying commenters to understand what practices they would like to see in the space. We’ve seen consistent support for having journalists answer factual questions or having experts involved in the comment section. This also could improve the deliberativeness of the space.

We are by no means the only scholars looking at comment sections and how they can be improved to create more deliberative experiences. Research on anonymity (Halpern & Gibbs, 2013; Rowe, 2015; Santana, 2014), moderation (Lampe & Resnick, 2004; Park, Sachar, Diakopoulos, & Elmqvist, 2016; Ruiz et al., 2011; Wise et al., 2006), the factors that inspire interactivity (Ziegele, Breiner, & Quiring, 2014), and news organizations’ policies (Ksiazek, 2015) is adding depth to our understanding. And this brief list of other research is only a small subset of the many interesting projects that are strengthening our understanding of creating more deliberative spaces online. I’m encouraged to see what new research takes place critically examining deliberation in comment sections (or in other online discussion spaces) in the coming years.

¹ Note that more design work is needed to ensure that the rightmost column doesn’t see diminished engagement due to its placement.

Notes on contributor

Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud (PhD, Pennsylvania) is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Director of the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on political communication, media effects, and public opinion.


Halpern, D., & Gibbs, J. (2013). Social media as a catalyst for online deliberation? Exploring the affordances of Facebook and YouTube for political expression. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(3), 1159–1168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2012.10.008

Ksiazek, T. B. (2015). Civil interactivity: How news organizations’ commenting policies explain civility and hostility in user comments. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 59(4), 556–573. https://doi.org/10.1080/08838151.2015.1093487

Lampe, C., & Resnick, P. (2004). Slash(dot) and burn: Distributed moderation in a large online conversation space. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 543–550). New York, NY: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/985692.985761

Park, D., Sachar, S., Diakopoulos, N., & Elmqvist, N. (2016). Supporting comment moderators in identifying high quality online news comments. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1114–1125). New York, NY: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2858036.2858389

Rowe, I. (2015). Deliberation 2.0: Comparing the deliberative quality of online news user comments across platforms. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 59(4), 539–555. https://doi.org/10.1080/08838151.2015.1093482

Ruiz, C., Domingo, D., Micó, J. L., Díaz-Noci, J., Meso, K., & Masip, P. (2011). Public sphere 2.0? The democratic qualities of citizen debates in online newspapers. International Journal of Press/Politics, 16(4), 463–487. https://doi.org/10.1177/1940161211415849

Santana, A. D. (2014). Virtuous or vitriolic: The effect of anonymity on civility in online newspaper reader comment boards. Journalism Practice, 8(1), 18–33. https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2013.813194

Wise, K., Hamman, B., & Thorson, K. (2006). Moderation, response rate, and message interactivity: Features of online communities and their effects on intent to participate. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(1), 24–41. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2006.00313.x

Ziegele, M., Breiner, T., & Quiring, O. (2014). What creates interactivity in online news discussions? An exploratory analysis of discussion factors in user comments on news items. Journal of Communication, 64(6), 1111–1138. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12123

The Benefits of Comparing Systems of Mediated Deliberation across Countries

Hartmut Wessler
Institute for Media and Communication Studies, University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany

“Deliberative democracy is like a Diesel car,” John Parkinson aptly remarked in a talk once. “You don’t expect to find the Diesel fuel in the glove compartment or the trunk, you expect to find it in the fuel tank.” What he meant, I think, is that deliberation is not supposed to be an all-encompassing quality of every aspect of democracy, but a particularly salient feature of a particular normative model of democracy. It is OK for really existing democracies to feature institutions in which decisions are taken by majority vote (and even institutions that are not democratically legitimated themselves such as independent central banks) – as long as the division of labor in the system as a whole ensures that all major policy proposals and the legitimacy of government are regularly subjected to inclusive, reasoned debate.

This state-of-the-art systemic view of deliberation (Parkinson & Mansbridge, 2012) puts normative weight on the quality of news and discussion in media ranging from newspapers, through TV and radio talk shows all the way to Facebook, Twitter & Co. None of these diverse forums needs to mimic the ideal speech situation devised by Jürgen Habermas (a concept, incidentally, that Habermas has not used anymore after 1972!). Nor should open mediated deliberation have to conform to the discourse rules that facilitate deliberative discussion in small-group settings. Instead media forums should collectively offer citizens, collective actors and decision-makers ways to express themselves in, and listen to, public debates imbued with a plurality of perspectives and a wide range of substantive justifications. In other words: They should facilitate aggregate-level learning processes, and reasoned dissent is just as fine as an outcome as substantive consensus (Wessler, 2008).

But just how much deliberativeness is enough deliberativeness? And how should it be distributed across the various media forums? The answers to these questions are not obvious at all. They will, I contend, not be found in deliberative theory, but only through comparative empirical analysis. The division of labor among different media forums, and between them and the various political institutions, in the deliberative system needs careful comparative investigation. For example, we know that in systems with strong public-service broadcasting (PSB) citizens know more about politics and the world (e.g., Iyengar et al., 2010). In systems without strong PSB basic epistemic functions might fall on other media forums such as online news, fact-checking websites or even satirical news programs. It seems that there is not one ideal deliberative constellation of media forums, but that different systems call for different types of complementarity. But how should we be able to know what works best in a given context without that systematic comparison?

The research I am favoring here was pioneered in the seminal study “Shaping abortion discourse” by Ferree and colleagues (2002), a US-German team of researchers. The authors show that quality newspapers in both countries have somewhat different profiles of deliberativeness (for example, including more perspectives from nonaffiliated individuals and everyday experience in the US dailies, and emphasizing argument complexity to some degree in the German ones). On the whole, however, deliberative performance turned out to be quite similar. A few studies have since investigated elements of media deliberativeness in two or more national contexts, including newspaper and TV coverage (Benson, 2013), TV news (Wessler & Rinke, 2014), newspapers and websites (Gerhards & Schäfer, 2010) or blogospheres (Hyun, 2012). Conversely, a few studies have compared the deliberative performance of different media forums in the same national context (see, for example, Freelon, 2015; Sobieraj & Berry, 2011). But to my knowledge no study to date has done both at the same time, that is, none has studied the systemic complementarity of various media forums and compared them across political-cultural contexts. What I am advocating, therefore, is the comparative analysis of systems of mediated deliberation.

Political communication scholarship benefits from this type of inquiry in at least three ways. First, media users today use all sorts of media concurrently and for different purposes, and it is this variegated usage that characterizes their experience of citizenship. By studying systems of mediated deliberation instead of individual media, empirical deliberation research would thus capture the actually existing media experience much better. Second, the kind of mediated deliberation we find in a particular system strongly depends on the institutional and macro-social context in which it takes place. There are indications that more consensual systems of governance (like Switzerland or, to a lesser extent, Germany) on average produce more civil debates but less public justifications for positions than majoritarian systems (such as the USA) (Wessler & Rinke, 2014). But there is much more to learn here, including the effects of racial, ethnic or cultural divisions on the deliberativeness of public discourse. A well-grounded theory of the macro-social foundations of deliberative media performance is only just beginning to emerge. Finally, deliberative theory has long been driven by the quest for democratic innovations. In this context the comparative analysis of systems of mediated deliberation will conceivably help devise contextualized innovations, which interact well with other system components, instead of isolated transplants that might not work well in the end.

Notes on contributor

Hartmut Wessler (PhD, Hamburg) is professor of media and communication studies at the University of Mannheim, Germany. His scholarship focuses on political communication, mediated contestation as well as global media debates on climate change, migration, and religion/secularism.


Benson, R. (2013). Shaping immigration news: A French-American comparison. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Ferree, M. M., Gamson, W. A., Gerhards, J., & Rucht, D. (2002). Shaping abortion discourse: Democracy and the public sphere in Germany and the United States. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Freelon, D. (2015). Discourse architecture, ideology, and democratic norms in online political discussion. New Media & Society, 17(5), 772-791. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444813513259

Gerhards, J., & Schäfer, M. S. (2010). Is the internet a better public sphere? Comparing old and new media in the USA and Germany. New Media Society, 12(1), 143-160. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444809341444

Hyun, K. D. (2012). Americanization of web-based political communication? A comparative analysis of political blogospheres in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 89(3), 397-413. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077699012447919

Iyengar, S., Curran, J., Lund, A. B., Salovaara-Moring, I., Hahn, K. S., & Coen, S. (2010). Cross-national versus individual-level differences in political information: A media systems perspective. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 20(3), 291-309. https://doi.org/10.1080/17457289.2010.490707

Parkinson, J., & Mansbridge, J. (Eds.). (2012). Deliberative systems: Deliberative democracy at the large scale. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Sobieraj, S., & Berry, J. M. (2011). From incivility to outrage: Political discourse in blogs, talk radio, and cable news. Political Communication, 28(1), 19-41. https://doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2010.542360

Wessler, H. (2008). Investigating deliberativeness comparatively. Political Communication, 25(1), 1-22. https://doi.org/10.1080/10584600701807752

Wessler, H., & Rinke, E. M. (2014). Deliberative performance of television news in three types of democracy: Insights from the U.S., Germany, and Russia. Journal of Communication, 64(5), 827-851. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12115

Reformists Are Everywhere in Politics

Iain Walker
newDemocracy Foundation, Sydney, Australia

There is an occasional tendency among the academic community to despair of meaningful, structural democratic reform opportunities. My observation is that they effectively cut half of the people out by assuming deliberation is only of appeal to the Left, so plan for hibernation at the arrival of a government of the Right. Moreover, they fear that the increase in mistrust of experts (consciously including themselves in that category) also applies only to ‘the other side’, and exacerbate this further by relying on assumptions that a weakened public service is run roughshod by a tough political culture replete with advisors.

A fine story, but try finding actual examples of it.

This is a set of assumptions not supported by my experience advocating for practical trials of deliberative process in Australia to Mayors, MP’s, Ministers and Premiers. While there is a mild skew to the Left in terms of the warmth of reception, the bigger skew is to the Centre. It is the lunatic fringes at each end of the political spectrum who feel they hold a font of absolute truth who truly oppose a role for randomly selected everyday people being given the chance to contribute an informed common ground view to the public discourse.

Where the Left has traditionally enjoyed the appeal of deliberative democracy’s flattening of the power structure (and inferred weakening of corporate interests), at the same time it appeals to the belief of the Right that they act for the everyday person in the street rather than noisy special interests. The appeal is equal. The methodology is geared toward facilitating practical reform because its appeal is balanced by the very nature of its operation. Elected representatives on both sides truly believe they act for everyday people against organised power, so how can the appeal be anything other than even?

The 2016 US Presidential election result has been a source of anguish in some democratic reform circles. I don’t share that. If there was ever an individual to whom you could sell the idea of changing democracy and disrupting the status quo, then it is President Trump who needs to hear from people who know how to “drain the swamp.” He may make a spurious claim he does not believe when he says elections are rigged, but aren’t we as deliberative advocates saying elections are fundamentally flawed?

In discussion with an Australian venture capitalist interested in our work, he noted that disruptive innovations rarely come from insiders. The team behind Airbnb never worked in hotels. The team behind Uber never had a taxi business. Elon Musk worked neither at NASA nor General Motors nor Visa, yet look at the disruptive achievements of SpaceX, Tesla, and PayPal.

His point to me was that the pattern of innovation comes from those outside the system, and that any politician who thought like he did would know to be looking for the radical reforms from us, not the incremental as a means of stemming declining party trust, membership, and public support coming from party-aligned think tanks.

This year in Australia we have seen a Left-aligned Premier in South Australia commit to what is likely the largest – and undoubtedly the most controversial – public policy deliberation: the question of whether South Australia should pursue a commercial opportunity to accept high-level nuclear waste from other countries. In isolation, that can be seen as evidence that one side of politics favors the use of deliberation more. But I base my judgment on the span of advocacy conversations we at the newDemocracy Foundation have including the projects we expect to announce in 2017. Based on this, I would predict (for Australia at least) that we will swing to projects for Right-aligned governments this year. Each year however, the baseline rises. The political understanding of “the jury” and of the vast difference between public opinion and public judgment is rising rapidly. The success of projects which involved deliberations by randomly-selected everyday people is known in more and more of the offices we walk into. That is the critical trend.

We are still comparatively ‘young’ in our time making public deliberation the natural course of action for large-scale public decision making. In a short time the fundamentals are becoming understood. Now is not the time, particularly for those in the US, to shelve action based on flawed assumptions. Democratic reform must be led by those who are non-partisan and hold no issue positions, and it must look for those not beholden to careerism. There are no ‘right’ answers to problems, there are simply informed positions which the vast majority of people decide is right for them and that they can live with. If you read this paragraph again and accept it, then you should see the opportunity for reform is accelerating and that the opportunity is there for those who can demonstrate trustworthy operations in practice. Especially in the United States.

Notes on contributor

Iain Walker (MPP, Sydney) is Executive Director of the newDemocracy Foundation in Australia. The work of the Foundation focuses on exploring and delivering systemic structural reform based on a role for randomly selected everyday people.

2016 ICA Political Communication Best Student Paper Award

Name (affiliation): Carina Weinmann (University of Mannheim)

Paper title: Measuring Political Thinking: Development and Validation of a Scale for “Deliberation Within”

Co-authors (if any): –

Publication reference (if any; APA 6th): –

Q: What should people remember from your paper? (Please give the one main finding and/or take-home message of your research.)

A: In my paper, I developed and validated a psychometric scale to measure internal deliberative thought processes (i.e., “deliberation within”, Goodin, 2000). In the beginning, this project was rather based on egoistic motives as I needed this measurement for my dissertation. However, since I had the chance to present it to a broader audience, I hope that many scholars might find it useful for their own work in related areas.

Q: Was your paper part of a coherent session? Did the papers talk to each other? In which ways? What were the concerns shared by the papers?

A: My paper was part of a session on theoretical and methodological issues in research on political discussion and deliberation. Apart from the subject – interpersonal political discussion – the papers were rather different in their approaches and concerns. However, since there were many researchers sharing similar concerns in the audience, the presentations were followed by a lot of interesting comments and questions on all of them, which I think all of the presenters benefited from.

Q: Did you see fascinating/innovative/inspiring presentations at this year’s conference? What about them struck you as outstanding? (Please give your general impression and perhaps focus on one specific paper that stood out for you.)

A: What I like most about the ICA annual conference is that you learn about issues and perspectives which you usually not get in contact with when working on your own projects. Like in the years before, I was fascinated by the diversity and innovative strength of our field, and I enjoyed talking to scholars from many different areas. However, the session which impressed me most this year was not a paper session but the Blue Sky Workshop “Tips, Tricks and Hacks for Careers Inside Academia” organized by the Student and Early Career Advisory Committee (SECAC). In this workshop, two Associate Professors – Anne Kaun from Södertörn University (Sweden) and Nicholas Bowman from West Virginia University (USA) – as well as former ICA president Cynthia Stohl shared their personal career experiences with us. All of them spoke very openly about their past, including the setbacks and failures in their careers and personal lives. Besides, they spent a lot of time to answer all of our questions as young scholars, even after the workshop was finished. I found this workshop to be incredibly helpful for my own career planning and hope that the SECAC will organize a similar one in the next years.

Q: I will always remember the conference in Fukuoka because…

A: … it was a first time conference for me in at least two ways: Apart from Istanbul, I have never been to Asia before, and it was a truly impressing experience for me to get to know a culture which is so very different from the European one. Secondly, with this paper I had my first single author presentation in Fukuoka. As you can imagine I was incredibly excited and nervous at the same time. However, having received the Best Student Paper Award for this paper gave me a lot of confidence. Therefore, I would like to thank you again for this recognition and honor.

Goodin, R. E. (2000). Democratic deliberation within. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 29(1), 81–109. doi:10.1111/j.1088-4963.2000.00081.x  

2016 ICA Political Communication Best Faculty Paper Award

Name (affiliation): Lukas Otto (University of Koblenz-Landau)

Paper title: Beyond Simple Valence: Discrete Emotions as Mediators of Political Communication Effects on Trust in Politicians

Co-authors (if any): –

Publication reference (if any; APA 6th): –

Q: What should people remember from your paper? (Please give the one main finding and/or take-home message of your research.)

A: Emotions are important for the judgment of trust in political communication contexts, however not every emotion is equally important. Control appraisals of emotions are crucial to decide which emotional response to political communication shapes a subsequent trust judgment. As a consequence emotions like anger or pride can be mediators of media effects on trust in politicians while fear or sadness not attributed to the politician but to the situation.

Q: Was your paper part of a coherent session? Did the papers talk to each other? In which ways? What were the concerns shared by the papers?

A: The session was entitled “Politicians in the news” and some of the papers talked to each other in the way that they investigated judgments of politicians from very different perspectives, for example politicians as satirical targets in television or trait inferences about politicians. These papers did not only share the topic but also attempted to investigate the underlying mechanisms of judgments on political leaders, which was very inspiring.

Q: Did you see fascinating/innovative/inspiring presentations at this year’s conference? What about them struck you as outstanding? (Please give your general impression and perhaps focus on one specific paper that stood out for you.)

A: The overall impression of this year’s conference is really good. I saw a huge amount of good work. In general I would say that the sessions of the Political Communication division getting more diverse and more sophisticated in terms of methodological approaches. Thus, if I have to mention one single paper I would go with the simulation study by Scharkow and Bachl on the effects of reliability in content analyses and surveys on the measurement of media effects. A very important study with an innovative method and a clear message: Make sure to use reliable measures in content analyzes as well as in surveys or it will be likely that you underestimate media effects.

Q: I will always remember the conference in Fukuoka because…

A: Japan was such a different experience from conferences in and travelling to Europe or the US. Coming to Japan for the first time, I will remember the kindness of Japanese people, the interesting cultural differences and – of course – the tasty Japanese food in Fukuoka!