By Ted Wachtel

Texas is famous for its divisive politics. Moderates are seen by many as spineless. Texas populist Jim Hightower says that in his state, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”

Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower

So how is it possible that Texas—one of the original gas and oil states—is now the nation’s leader in renewable energy? How is possible that both conservatives and liberals support this development? What about the dead armadillos?

What transformed the usually partisan political battle between environmentalists and the energy industry was a “Deliberative Poll.™”

In 1996, eight Texas electric power companies asked James Fishkin, now director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, to survey their customers’ views on energy options, including renewable energy, energy conservation and the related costs.

James Fishkin
James Fishkin

The Deliberative Poll has remarkable credibility, because its participants are selected by lottery from the target population—in this case, making each deliberative group truly representative of the eight power companies’ customers.

So what is a deliberative poll?

It starts with a conventional telephone poll, asking a few hundred randomly selected people several questions. Next, the respondents are invited to join, in person, a weekend of presentations and deliberations about the issues identified in the poll. In advance of the weekend, each participant receives a non-partisan briefing book, which presents the pros and cons of each of the choices. At the close of the weekend, the participants respond to the poll questions a second time.

The results of the Texas energy poll shocked everyone.

Texans—from the gas and oil state, who drive more miles in more pickup trucks and SUVs than folks in any other state—were willing to pay extra money for renewable energy and for energy conservation. From the telephone poll to the final poll, customer willingness to pay extra money jumped 30 percent, to 84 percent for renewable energy and 73 percent for energy conservation.

Fishkin reports that after hearing speakers and deliberating with others, people change their choices from the first telephone poll almost seventy percent of the time; a surprising result, because people usually are more resistant to change.


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