The Influence of Leaders on the Quality of Citizen Deliberation: An Exploratory Assessment of Online Deliberation in New Zealand

Audrey Susin, Eduardo Ordonez-Ponce

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review


Leaders can be essential in setting the tone of deliberation in the public sphere, but can their discursive style influence the wider public sphere? Mass communication usually mediates leader-citizen interactions, and the proliferation of social media has presented new, large-scale opportunities to support deliberation. Further, leaders using these platforms have widespread reach. Using deliberative discourse analysis, this exploratory research studies whether leaders influence the quality of citizen deliberation and whether this is dependent on the online arena. Two leaders with contrasting communication styles were chosen: New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and opposition leader Judith Collins. Two online arenas were included: a national news media Facebook page and the leaders’ respective Facebook pages. The results found that deliberative quality was variable within the news mass media arena; however, citizens displayed higher deliberative quality when the leader did so in the leader-led online media arena. This study suggests that leaders can use deliberative dialogue to foster more deliberative discussion among citizens when they engage as both participants and facilitators in arenas with greater access to directly support deliberation. It presents theoretical arguments for leaders to participate in legitimation processes as part of the response to the problem of scale and introduces a communication model for leaders to support deliberation in the public sphere. The model suggests that the leader’s ability to affect the deliberative quality of citizens’ discussions is mediated by their level of influence within that space.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Deliberative Democracy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • deliberative communication
  • deliberative democracy
  • deliberative leadership
  • deliberative quality
  • leadership influence
  • leadership style
  • online deliberation
  • systemic approach to deliberation


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