Measuring Democratic Listening: A Listening Quality Index

Published date01 March 2022
Date01 March 2022
Subject MatterArticles
2022, Vol. 75(1) 175 –187
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912921989449
This paper develops a listening quality index (LQI) to
quantitatively measure listening in democratic deliber-
ation. The LQI can be used to assess listening in a vari-
ety of “micro” deliberative settings (Bächtiger and
Parkinson 2019), from parliaments to deliberative mini-
publics and experimental settings. Creating more delib-
erative moments in the policy-making process can help
counter problems of polarization, citizen distrust in gov-
ernment, and demobilization (Dryzek et al. 2019).
Deliberative mini-publics—groups of randomly selected
citizens “tasked with learning, deliberating, and advis-
ing or deciding on a policy or issue”— help “deepen
democracy” by reducing certain democratic deficits in
representative democracies (Beauvais and Warren 2019,
893, 908). But without listening, efforts to create and
expand spaces for deliberation will not enhance democ-
racy (Ercan, Hendriks, and Dryzek 2019, 21).
Listening is at the normative and functional core of
deliberative democracy (Bächtiger and Parkinson 2019;
Barber 1984; Bickford 1996; Dobson 2014; Ercan,
Hendriks, and Dryzek 2019; Hendriks, Ercan, and Duus
2019; Mansbridge and Latura 2017; Scudder 2020a).
Deliberation simply cannot occur without listening. “In
the same way one who catches the ball turns the throw
into a game,” the act of listening turns acts of expression
into communication (Srader 2015, 98). The act of listen-
ing is constitutive of deliberation. While deliberative
theorists have recently come to appreciate the centrality
of listening to democratic decision making, we still lack
an adequate means of operationalizing listening and
assessing its quality in deliberation.
This is a conceptual paper that works toward a more
normatively sensitive operationalization of democratic
listening. It provides a theoretically informed, norma-
tively relevant, but also flexible and feasible measure of
listening to guide empirical work on deliberation. A key
obstacle to this task is observation. Listening occurs
internally and so can only be measured indirectly by
looking for observable behaviors we expect to correspond
with it. Given these observational challenges, empirical
deliberation research has relied primarily on “responsive-
ness” as a proxy for listening (Button and Garrett 2016;
Steenbergen et al. 2003; Steiner 2012, 268–71).
But this approach has limitations. By equating listen-
ing with responsiveness, we miss important variation in
listening and listening quality (Scudder 2020a, 136).
Existing measures collapse “not listening” and “not
responding” into one category, denying the possibility
989449PRQXXX10.1177/1065912921989449Political Research QuarterlyScudder
1Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
Corresponding Author:
Mary F. (Molly) Scudder, Department of Political Science, Purdue
University, 100 N University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2050, USA.
Measuring Democratic Listening:
A Listening Quality Index
Mary F. Scudder1
Recent political theory in the area of deliberative democracy has placed listening at the normative core of meaningfully
democratic deliberation. Empirical research in this area, however, has struggled to capture democratic listening in a
normatively relevant way. This paper presents a new, theoretically informed instrument for measuring and assessing
listening in deliberation. Here, I tackle the observational challenge of measuring the act of listening itself, as opposed
to either the preconditions or outcomes of listening. Reviewing existing measures, I show that each, in isolation, fails
to capture the most democratically meaningful aspects of listening. The paper argues, however, that existing and
novel measures can be usefully combined to allow researchers to capture different degrees of democratic listening.
Using Rawls’s concept of “lexical priority,” I aggregate relevant components of listening into a normatively significant
lexical scale. The paper describes this novel measurement and highlights how it can be used in empirical research on
democratic deliberation.
deliberative democracy, listening, listening quality index, uptake, deliberation, political communication

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