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RIP Demographics? Well, probably not…

Friday, August 22, 2014
posted by Douglas Keene

RIP demographicsWe’ve just published a new article in The Jury Expert that “should” signal the death of the simplistic use of demographics in voir dire and jury selection. Will it? Not likely. Partly this is the fault of courts that are becoming increasingly restrictive of time and the scope of questions posed to jurors. If litigants cannot ask substantive questions, they are left to rely on the broad impressions, which are often wrong and are generally based on stereotypes rather than knowledge of individual biases.

Be that as it may, we still think it’s important for all of us to know how changes in society as a whole will make a difference in how we need to think about voir dire. There are changes that have shifted the landscape of our communities and venires, and even our basic assumptions about there being a continuum from liberal to conservative with a moderate center. Some of these big changes have now been documented. You know that moderate center? Well, to the extent it is still there, it is vastly more complex, and defies labeling. You know how Democrats are more liberal and Republicans are more conservative? We can no longer make those blanket assumptions.

Americans are now more focused on specific issues. You will find, for example, a Democrat who leans left on many issues but is more conservative on issues involving faith and family. You will find, as another example, Republicans who lean right on many issues but support other issues that “Republicans just don’t support”. And in the center, you will find many people (indeed, the majority) who are not consistently liberal and not consistently conservative. On the other hand, they are also not consistently moderate. We’ve been watching this shift for almost a decade now with political affiliation simply no longer being an effective way of understanding individual mock jurors.

It really is about the issues. It’s something we have said for years– it isn’t demographics, it is the person and what matters in their life experience. Demographics (even tidy, long-standing descriptors like political affiliation and whether one is liberal or conservative) do not tell the story nearly as well as the individual’s values, attitudes, beliefs and experiences. But, don’t just take our word for it. How about considering the results of a 2014 survey of more than 10,000 Americans (randomly selected and nationally representative)? The results represent an eye-opener that allows us to compare American opinions and how they have shifted and turned upside down in the two decades since Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution of 1994.

Please visit our new articleDemographic Roulette: What Was Once a Bad Idea Has Gotten Worseover at The Jury Expert. We are pleased and flattered that Paul Begala (Democratic strategist, author and CNN Contributor) reviewed the issues and our article, and offered his take on the study.

Tell us what you think. We think it should be a game-changer.

Douglas L. Keene, & Rita R. Handrich (2014). Demographic Roulette: What Was Once a Bad Idea Has Gotten Worse. The Jury Expert, 26 (3.)

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