Paul Waldman

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kathleen Hall Jamieson


While much scholarly attention has been paid to deliberation as a set of procedures used to achieve democratic goals of individual autonomy and mutually beneficial policy outcomes, few studies have asked to what extent contemporary American society resembles a deliberative democracy. In order to assess the prospects for deliberative democracy, everyday political conversation, its influences and its consequences are examined. The dissertation establishes a “reasonable ideal” of deliberation by which a democracy may be judged. The reasonable ideal has five elements: conversation, disagreement, information, the common interest, and the accommodation of uncertainty. Results show that American democracy is deliberative in some ways but not in others. Political conversation is disproportionately the pastime of the elite, and discussion across lines of difference, an essential element of deliberation, is extremely rare. Contrary to the assumptions of deliberative theory, conversation produces an increase in the belief that citizens are motivated by self-interest. However, the discussions that occur do succeed in producing learning and reducing uncertainty about political issues. While media use serves deliberative ends by spurring some to discuss politics and providing information, it also increases the likelihood that others will view political discussion as unpleasantly argumentative. News media thus encourage deliberation for some and discourage it for others.