On one end of the spectrum, there are specific beliefs jurors might hold on an issue. More generally, then there are attitudes that cover and predict many of those different beliefs. Even more generally, there is the constellation of attitudes that would be called a worldview. And then, if you really want to dive into German philosophy, there’s the “WeltenSchauung,” which is not just a worldview, but is the worldview that an individual would use to explain essentially everything as well as their own standpoint within it. While I am not sure it goes to the full Kantian extreme, as it relates to litigation, the notion of “Personal Responsibility” is at the more comprehensive end of that scale.
Potential jurors’ views on personal responsibility matter in nearly all cases, not just slip and fall cases where the injured individual was wearing those new “Heely shoes” (wheels built into the sole), but also a contract case where one party should have known better, a construction case where the complaining company caused some of its own problems, or a medical case where a patient didn’t fully comply. The personal responsibility worldview that a potential juror brings to all of these situations will play an important role in determining their leaning on the legal case. And recent research from the Persuasion Strategies team shows that there is a big divide on personal versus collective responsibility. In this post, I’ll share the data on that survey response and talk about some of the ways to explore these responsibility questions in voir dire.
Recent Data: Darned Close to an Even Split
Earlier this summer, we asked a pool of 588 jury-qualified survey respondents about personal versus collective responsibility. Specifically, we asked whether their own opinion was closer to the view that “Society needs to do more to ensure people’s well-being,” or the view that “People need to take more responsibility for their own well-being.”
The results, as you see below, are about as close as you are going to see in social science to a photo finish. The distribution is also eerily similar to the results of national political polls, with the collective-responsibility side matching Democrats and the personal- responsibility side matching Republicans.
Asking About Personal Responsibility in Voir Dire
Based on above data, there is close to an even chance that any given juror is going to put the first emphasis on individual or collective responsibility. Because this has a good chance of influencing their disposition toward your case, you should ask. A question format like the one used above is probably best applied in a juror questionnaire, but I think it could also be asked as a show-of-hands question in oral voir dire.
Ultimately, you will want to think about how the distinction between collective or individual responsibility maps onto your own case, and you will also want to focus on the forms that responsibility could take in your case. It is a good practice to mix open-ended questions with more pointed follow-ups in something that I call the “pivot” style. For the open-ended questions, here are a few examples that target the different dimensions of personal responsibility:
Awareness: In what ways should a person inform themselves about the risks in this kind of a situation?
Choice: In what ways might it matter whether an individual makes the choice to participate or to not participate in something that could carry risk?
Preparation: What kinds of things would you do to get ready for something like that?
Precaution: What steps should a person take to reduce their own exposure or risk in a situation like this?
Acceptance: If something does end up going wrong, how much should the individual accept responsibility for it?
There will be more ways to ask and more dimensions to ask about in your own case. But the goal is to assess where they’re primed to place responsibility, first and foremost: Is it on the individual or on the collective?