A forum convened by the Jefferson Center bringing together 52 Twin-Cities area residents, who represented the metropolitan area demographically and politically, for 5 hours of discussion about the 2016 Presidential Election.
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Problems and Purpose
The heated 2016 Presidential campaign cycle painted a picture of a country so at odds with itself that conversations between people with different political views seemed impossible. The Jefferson Center and University of Minnesota Researcher and lecturer C. Daniel Myers wanted to explore whether this was really the case: can voters, through deliberation, empathize and even collaborate with supporters of the opposing candidate?
The goal of this event was not to change the minds of voters on which candidate to support. Myers was interested in creating a mutual understanding among citizens with opposing political beliefs. To accomplish this goal, the Jefferson Center launched the Twin Cities Election Forum. The forum brought together 52 Twin-Cities area residents, who represented the metropolitan area demographically and politically, for 5 hours of discussion about the 2016 Presidential Election
Forum participants were charged with “producing a list of reasons why Twin Cities voters might support each of the major-party presidential candidates.”
Background History and Context
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Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
As consultants for the project, Jefferson Center staff joined Dr. Myers by training student facilitators and assisting in the design and execution of the event. The TCEF was financially supported by a grant from the College of Liberal Arts’ Joan Aldous Innovation Fund.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Jefferson Center selected participants to mirror, as nearly as possible, the demographic and political makeup of the seven county Twin Cities metropolitan area. They mailed an invitation to ten thousand addresses, randomly drawn from the list of registered voters in the seven-county metro area. 60 participants were selected from the applicant pool of 240, who matched the metro area’s demographic and political make-up. 52 people who were selected agreed to participate and attended the forum. Participants were paid a $75 stipend.
Methods and Tools Used
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What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
After arriving, forum participants completed surveys to assess their political attitudes. These surveys would help organizers track any attitude shifts during the forum. Attendees were then split into diverse small groups and listened to presentations from Chris Fields, Vice-Chair of the Minnesota Republican Party and Ken Martin, Chair of the Minnesota DFL Party, about each of the major party candidates. They had the chance to ask the speakers questions, and then started working on the list of reasons why they might support each candidate.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Beyond creating the list of reasons, conveners were wanted to know if this process would help supporters of each candidate understand the perspectives of “the other side.” They found that it did. By the end of the event, nearly all Clinton supporters said they could understand the perspective of someone who found the pro-Trump reasons convincing. Similarly, the majority of Trump supporters said they could understand pro-Clinton perspectives.
By asking supporters of each candidate to sit down and talk about their views, this forum helped both sides understand each other. They also recognized one another as fellow citizens, deserving of respect. While this mutual respect is sorely lacking on TV and social media, it is essential to maintaining a functioning democracy.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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The Jefferson Center https://jefferson-center.org/