Citizen Panels: Repairing Our Political System, One District at a Time

When our political conversations are so toxic and unproductive, though, how can our representatives really know what voters think about important issues? Traditional town halls have turned into shouting matches. Local newspapers face major revenue challenges. Social media amplifies the loudest and most extreme voices.

Working with our partners at Voice of the People, we have held two Citizen Panel events, one in Maryland and one in New York. A Citizen Panel works like this:

  • Voice of the People fields a specially designed survey, called a policymaking simulation, to a representative sample of voters in a congressional district.
  • The simulation gives participants information on one key issue facing Congress, such as health care, immigration, or campaign finance reform.
  • Next, the simulation gives participants arguments for and against basic policy choices. Participants are asked whether or not they find one or both arguments persuasive (more often than not, they find both somewhat persuasive).
  • Participants then must choose among different options, much in the same way as their representatives in Congress must choose.
  • All participants in the survey are invited to attend a session with Voice of the People and their representative. Voice of the People gives the results of the survey for the district, compares the district results to national results, and everyone in attendance discusses the issues with their representative.

Do Citizen Panels work? Below is a video with highlights of our recent panel in Rochester, New York, where Voice of the People fielded a survey on immigration. Almost 1,000 people in the district completed the survey, and 55 of them attended our panel event in the offices of the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester’s largest daily newspaper, to hear the results and discuss them with Representative Joe Morelle.


Citizen Panel Event with Rep. Joe Morelle from Common Ground Solutions on Vimeo.


The bottom line: voters are far less polarized than politicians. People who hold different views can sit at the same tables and talk about them with each other and with their representative in Congress. Everyday people and their representatives can restore connections and repair faith in our political system.

We’re excited to continue working with Voice of the People to host Citizen Panels in districts across the country, finding more common ground on issues that really matter. We may not agree on everything, but it turns out we agree on a lot – and that’s enough to start moving past gridlock and making progress as a nation.