Deliberative Model of Democracy

… a core term used in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Joseph Heath (reference below) describes the deliberative model of democracy as one where “the function of voting and elections is not to permit the naked expression of interests, it is to constitute a deliberative body that will be charged with the responsibility of determining where the common good lies.” (p. 11)

This model can be contrasted with the Aggregative Model of Democracy and the Competitive Model of Democracy.

Heath notes that whereas “the American political system tends to be organized on an aggregative model, the Westminster parliamentary tradition has been deeply influenced by the deliberative conception of politics (in part due to the influence of philosopher and parliamentarian Edmund Burke, who provided the most influential articulation of the ideal). [See Burke’s Conception of an Elected Representative]

“According to the purest version of the deliberative view, voting is not a process of preference-aggregation; it is a process through which citizens express their opinion about where the common good lies. The decision of the majority prevails, not because it represents the popular will, but because the numerical superiority of those supporting that decision makes it most likely to be the correct one. But voting is only one mechanism among many, and enjoys no special privilege. What matters most is that all of the arguments and perspectives on any given issue be put forward and be given serious consideration.

“The deliberative model obviously offers a very different perspective on many familiar political institutions. According to this view, for example, there is very little to be said for free votes in parliament. What matters is not the counting of hands, but rather the deliberation that goes on in caucus, and within the political parties more generally. Once caucus has decided, after a free and open discussion, where the public interest lies, it is only natural that party discipline should be imposed upon members. A free vote defeats the purpose of having deliberation in committee and caucus. It also increases the likelihood that parochial interests of one type or another will sway the member’s vote. Party discipline holds members accountable in a way that free votes do not, since they are forced to explain their vote to their colleagues, and to the public more generally. Thus the type of horse-trading and logrolling that goes on in the United States Congress and Senate are effectively precluded.” (p. 11-12)

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Electoral Systems and Democratic Reform (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Joseph Heath (n.d.), The democracy deficit in Canada, at, accessed 12 August 2016 and uploaded to the Atlas at

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 14 August 2016.