Democracy’s Pin Factory: Issue Specialization, the Division of Cognitive Labor, and Epistemic Performance – American Journal of Political Science – article

Democracy’s Pin Factory: Issue Specialization, the Division of Cognitive Labor, and Epistemic Performance

Kevin J. Elliott | American Journal of Political Science

2019-11-19

This article describes how issue specialization through deliberative institutions called “issue publics” can improve the quality of democratic decision making. Issue specialization improves decisions by instantiating a cognitive division of labor among the mass public, which creates efficiencies in decision making and grants large groups of average citizens a scalable advantage over small groups of even the smartest and most capable individuals. Issue specialization further improves decisions by capturing issue‐specific information, concentrating it within the specialized deliberative enclaves of issue publics, and refining citizens’ issue preferences. These advantages are brought to bear in wider democratic politics and policy through information shortcuts and through the specialized electoral incentives of representatives. The article responds to concerns about political ignorance, polarization/partisanship, rent seeking, and socioeconomic bias and argues that issue specialization can provide a valuable brake to polarization yet needs institutional supplementation to engage marginalized citizens and combat bias.

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