A COLLAPSE of public satisfaction with politicians, the current democratic system and the ability of voters to affect government decisions is revealed by polling for a new IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) report on UK democracy.
Only around one person in 20 (six per cent) believes voters have the most powerful influence on government decision making, according to the polling – with around half of all adults (53 per cent) saying that party donors, businesses or lobby groups wield the greatest power.
Meanwhile, almost four out of five people (78 per cent) consider that politicians understand the lives of people like them “badly” and fewer than one quarterof under-50s believe that democracy in Britain as a whole serves the interests of people like them well.
The report, Road to Renewal, draws on YouGov polling of 3,442 adults commissioned by IPPR, the Electoral Reform Society and Unlock Democracy to argue for an urgent rethink of how democracy in the UK works. It calls for steps to reconnect citizens with politics and politicians and give them a greater say.
It also charts four decades during which voters across all advanced democracies have expressed ‘silent’ and ‘noisy’ protests against the way democratic politics have increasingly been conducted, leading to the current ‘democratic crisis’.
- ‘Silent protest’ includes citizens disengaging from democratic politics, by not voting at elections and by shunning membership of political parties.
- ‘Noisy protest’ includes increasing volatility as voters switch between parties, and the rise in support for populist challengers – such as with Brexit and the rise of UKIP, the election of Donald Trump and the surge of far-right parties in Europe.
The report warns that social democratic parties that mimic the nationalist and authoritarian approach of right-wing populists, without tackling the root causes of discontent with the political system, jeopardise both the foundations of liberal democracy and crucially, their own prospects of securing power.
It argues that this means tackling the decline in status and the lack of voice that many groups feel as a result of sweeping economic, social and political transformations since the 1980s – including deindustrialisation, increased immigration and the professionalisation of politics.
Among other key findings of the YouGov polling on satisfaction with democracy in Britain are that:
- People living in the least deprived neighbourhoods are 70 per cent more likely to say “democracy addresses their interests well” than people living in the most deprived neighbourhoods.
- People aged over 65 are over twice (2.4 times) as likely to say “democracy addresses their interests well” compared to people aged 18 to 24.
- Four times as many people believe “more decisions should be made by devolved and local governments” than those who believe the government in Westminster should have more power.
Dr Parth Patel, IPPR Research Fellow, said: “In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine our leaders have lined up to champion liberal democracy. But the reality is that the battle for democracy needs not only to be won abroad, it must be won at home too.
“In truth, democracies have not been delivering well for their citizens. Politicians and parties are increasingly out of touch and the sway of ordinary citizens over public policy has declined. Many are opting out of political participation altogether, while large numbers have lent their support to populist challengers — signs of a protest against ‘democracy as usual’.
“Mainstream political parties on both sides have chosen to imitate the divisive politics of populist challengers, rather than to tackle the underlying causes of democratic discontent. They must now take a long, hard look in the mirror and commit to meaningful reforms that put the voices of citizens back at the centre of democracy. ‘Giving back control’ should be a dividing line at the next election.”
* Read Road to Renewal: elections, parties and the case for democratic reform here.
* Source: Institute for Public Policy Research