, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 175-192
Date: 24 Jun 2006

Exploring the Roots of Public Participation in the Controversy Over Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Cloning

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Abstract

In this study, analyzing nationally represented survey data collected in 2003, we consider the roots of issue-specific citizen participation in the controversy over embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. Building on past research, we pay particular theoretical attention to the role of issue engagements, the impact of church-based recruitment, and the influence of news media attentiveness. Given the increasing emphasis in science policy circles on creating new forms of public engagement, we also measure citizen willingness to attend and participate in a proposed local deliberative forum on the stem cell debate. Results indicate that traditional forms of citizen activism in the controversy over embryonic stem cell research and cloning is rooted almost exclusively in direct requests for participation through religious organizations rather than socio-economic differences among respondents, though issue engagement (measured as opinion intensity) and news attentiveness also play an important role. In terms of deliberative forums, traditional resource factors are significant, as the citizens who indicate they are most likely to participate in such a hypothetical local town meeting are generally highly educated, white, and younger. Above and beyond these resource factors, however, citizens willing to participate are also likely to have received requests to get involved in the debate at church, hold more intense feelings about the issue, and are paying closer attention to news coverage. In the future, in order to ensure the normative goals of diverse and/or representative participation, if actual deliberative forums are employed, these findings suggest that organizers will need to focus heavily on purposive sampling and turn out efforts.

An earlier version of this manuscript was presented to the 2005 meetings of the Southern Political Science Association, New Orleans, LA, and the 2004 meetings of the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research, Chicago, IL.