Bulgaria's second deliberative poll was held due to the generational poverty faced by its Roma population. The results show that policy stances changed amongst most participants in relation to housing, education and higher levels of Roma representation in public offices.
Problems and Purpose
Bulgaria’s Roma population had suffered from poverty for generations, and this was starting to impact the rest of Bulgarian society. This deliberative poll was held to gauge the opinions of a representative sample of the Bulgarian population before and after hearing information from experts and deliberating amongst themselves about what policies would help solve this issue.
It was hoped that the results from this deliberative poll would help policy makers create policies that would solve this issue.
Background History and Context
Bulgaria’s Roma population originate from Northern India, speaking a language that shares its basic lexicon with Hindi and Punjabi. There is no direct evidence regarding when exactly the Roma first arrived in Bulgaria, but most ethnologists date their arrival during the 13th and 14th centuries. Many Roma also arrived during the Ottoman Empire’s rule. 
The Roma are not a single united community. Across Bulgaria, there are Christian (Orthodox and Protestant) and Muslim Roma communities. There are also different linguistic groups who speak Turkish, Bulgarian, and Romani. 
According to the 2011 census of Bulgaria, there were 325,343 Romani, 66% of which were young children and adults up to 29 years old. Only 5% of Roma are 60 years and over. Between 1992 and 2001, Bulgaria’s Roma population increased by 57, 512 (18.4%). 
The method used in this Deliberative Poll was created by Professor James Fishkin from Stanford University, and it can be found in the article titled ‘The Case for a National Caucus: Taking Democracy Seriously.’  This was the second time that a Deliberative Poll had been used in Bulgaria. The first, titled ‘Deliberative Polling on Crime in Bulgaria’, was held in October 2002 in response to the growing concerns over the divide between the public and the elite.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The organisations involved in this Deliberative Poll were primarily non-governmental organisations along with the Bulgarian National Television.
This Deliberative Poll was organised by three organisations which had different roles. The primary organiser was the Centre for Liberal Strategies, based in Bulgaria. They were joined by partner organizations, Alpha Research, who sourced the sample of participants, and Bulgarian National Television, who televised the event.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The participants involved were recruited through a stratified sample that aimed to represent Bulgaria’s population regarding factors such as gender, age, wealth, minority groups, the type of city or town they lived in, and occupation. This initially involved a sample of 1,344 people which was formed by the organisation, Alpha Research. The smaller sample of 255 people was then formed to represent the larger one as much as possible. The reason for this sampling technique being used was to create a microcosm of Bulgaria in one room which would provide insight into how deliberation would affect people’s attitudes towards the Roma.
The process also involved experts selected based on their expertise and politicians from the most represented political parties.
Methods and Tools Used
The method used in this case was Deliberative Polling which involves participants answering a questionnaire before and after the process of deliberation. The process of deliberation involves participants hearing from expert witnesses with the opportunity to ask questions. Participants would then have the opportunity to discuss the information they have received with one another. By asking participants to answer the same questionnaire at the end, the organisers can see whether the new information and discussions changed the participant’s opinions. The reason why this method was used was to provide insight to policymakers about what policies the Bulgarian public would support after becoming more informed about issues that the Roma face. The concept of Deliberative Polling was created by Professor James Fishkin from Stanford University in 1988 who was also present during this case.
To find a representative sample of the population, this case used stratified sampling. This divides the population into smaller groups of strata based on common characteristics such as race and gender. The sample would then take people from each of these groups in proportion to their percentage of the population. By using this method, this case enabled the participants to represent the different demographics of Bulgaria which would strengthen its legitimacy.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The first step of this process was the pre-deliberation survey where participants expressed their opinions on the topics to be discussed. This part of the process was organised by the Centre for Liberal Strategies, although the sample was collected by Alpha Research.
The second stage involved participants hearing information from experts and discussing the information with one another afterwards. Six hours of these proceedings were broadcast on national television. The first issue discussed was housing and whether the Roma should have separate neighbourhoods and if the government should help to provide it. The second issue was criminal justice and whether Roma should be represented more in the police and court system. The last issue discussed was education and whether Roma children should be integrated into Bulgarian schools.
After the debate, the participants were surveyed again with the same questions. This process was designed to provide insight into the policies which the Bulgarian public would support having been more informed about the issue of Roma poverty. The results were recorded and released to the public.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The results of this deliberative poll support the notion that deliberation changes people’s attitudes towards policies. The results showed that in relation to housing, participants expressed far less support for separate Roma neighbourhoods, but increased support for measures that would help the Roma obtain adequate and legal housing. The proportion of those who thought that ‘the Roma should live in separate Roma neighbourhoods’ declined from 43% to 21% and those who thought the government ‘should legalize those buildings that meet current regulations and then destroy the rest’ rose from 66% to 77% .
Regarding criminal justice, after deliberation, the percentage agreeing that ‘the government should hire more Roma police officers’ rose from 32% to 56%, while those agreeing that ‘the government should hire more Roma in the court’ rose from 26% to 45% .
Lastly, concerning the factor of education, after deliberation, support rose for integrating Roma children into Bulgarian schools and for closing the separate Roma schools. Specifically, the proportion of those agreeing that ‘The Roma schools should be closed and all the children should be transported by buses to their new school’ rose from 42% to 66% .
Regarding the influence of this deliberative poll, it served as an example of deliberative polling cited by the Stanford Center for Deliberative Democracy in terms of showing the impact of deliberation on people’s policy ideas.
The most significant impact of this deliberative poll was that it led to Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva endorsing the concept of Deliberative Polling, stating that this case "is a mini-referendum which has to be applied for key decisions also in other areas such as education or health care reform because this method allows for deeper knowledge of the essence of the issues, for possible ways to resolve these issues, and for the policies and actions which the institutions should undertake with the support of the society" .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Through Graham Smith’s democratic goods, one can analyse how effectively this initiative upheld democracy . Firstly, regarding inclusion, this deliberative poll used a stratified sample to ensure that it proportionately represented Bulgaria’s population. This therefore meant that the initiative itself was inclusive in that it did not discriminate against people and aimed to be diverse. However, the poll was still only open to those who were involved in the selected sample.
With popular control, participants were able to express their views within the questionnaires taken before and afterwards. However, the participants did not have a say over what questions were asked nor which experts and politicians they heard from. There also was not a formal ideation within the process and so it is difficult to determine how much control participants had over the deliberation itself. This also links with considered judgment, as there was adequate time for participants to deliberate and scrutinise experts, however it was limited by the fact that there was not a specific means of ensuring each participant expressed their thoughts during deliberation.
Regarding transparency, this deliberative poll was televised which enabled public scrutiny to take place throughout. The results were also released to the public and participants were aware of the process that they were taking part in throughout.
This deliberative poll was also efficient as the sampling and deliberation stages were done within reasonable amounts of time and with minimal costs. The poll was also adequately supported by several organisations and funders.
The methods used in this poll were transferable and have been used in other deliberative polls since. The fact that this case took place in Bulgaria suggests that its methods are also transferable across different countries and cultures. As Fishkin was involved in this case, it may be assumed that the methods aided his research.
Regarding the current literature on deliberative polling, this case supports the main arguments in favour of it. For example, Fishkin argues that a "deliberative poll attempts to model what the public would think, had it a better opportunity to consider the question at issue" . As mentioned, the aim of this deliberative was to create a mini-Bulgaria, in which it was successful. The fact that the Prime Minister endorsed this deliberative poll emphasises its significance. However, scholars such as Steiner have also argued that "empirical research can merely be a helping hand in the big controversies in democratic theory. But as a helping hand, empirical research has its place" . In this sense, the data collected helps build understanding regarding Bulgarian attitudes toward the Roma but is limited in other respects. However, the fact that participants are informed on topics before completing the final questionnaire is beneficial in measuring how their opinions change in light of new information. This deliberative poll is therefore useful to current literature in providing a case where the method has been successful. However, it does not provide any new insights into deliberative polling which are found in other cases.
Most participants thought the event was valuable. On a scale from 0 to 10, 72% of the participants gave the overall event 10. 74% gave 10 for the small group discussions, 52% for the plenary sessions with experts, and 47% for the sessions with the politicians . This data suggests that this initiative was successful as participants felt it was beneficial. The fact that the prime minister endorsed this deliberative poll also emphasises its success as it would influence policymakers. This event was also successful in achieving its goal of showing that the Bulgarian public’s opinions would change after being exposed to new information and having the opportunity to discuss it. The use of questionnaires also enabled precise measurement of the extent to which participants’ opinions changed as all participants completed it before and after the deliberation process.
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