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The effects of direct voting and deliberation on legitimacy beliefs: an experimental study of small group decision-making

  • Mikael Persson (a1), Peter Esaiasson (a1) and Mikael Gilljam (a1)


In democratic theory, two frequently occurring ideas are that deliberation and direct voting in referendums can increase perceived legitimacy of democratic procedures. To evaluate this claim, we conducted a controlled field experiment in which 215 high school students participated by being subject to a decision on a collective issue. The decision was made either by direct voting or as a non-voting procedure (decision made by the teacher). Additionally, we manipulated the opportunities for deliberation prior to the decision. Our primary finding is that both voting and deliberation significantly increase perceived legitimacy compared with a procedure in which these components are absent. However, applying both voting and deliberation does not yield significantly higher perceived legitimacy than applying voting without deliberation. We also found that perceived influence in the decision-making process mediates the effect of both voting and deliberation, whereas the epistemic quality of the decision, which is heavily emphasized in deliberative democratic theory, gained no support as a mediator.


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