Democratic Repair: What Britons want from their democracy
More in Common
Luke Tryl, Conleth Burns, Tim Dixon, Míriam Juan-Torres

The report ‘Democratic Repair: What Britons expect from their democracy’ is based on polling and focus groups of our British Seven segments from across the country.

The overwhelming majority of people feel proud of our democracy and democratic values. But a clear majority are unhappy with how the system works. They feel that the ‘political elite’ don’t care about them: it’s one set of rules for them, and another set of rules for the rest of us.

People feel increasingly frustrated by a democratic system that isn’t delivering for them or helping to make their lives better, and they feel let down by politicians who fall short of their expectations. Dissatisfaction is deepest among the three most disengaged groups, who make up almost half the population: Loyal Nationals, Disengaged Traditionalists and Disengaged Battlers.

This distrust and disengagement are dangerous because it leaves these groups more open to anti-democratic trends that have taken hold in other democracies: populists who break the rules, divide their societies into us-versus-them and undermine the rule of law and fair treatment of minorities.

An important message is that disengagement is not always a bad thing – some people would rather leave it to the politicians and policymakers they elect to solve problems on their behalf, others don’t have the time to engage in tackling society’s problems while balancing the other demands of their daily life.

In contrast, no point disengagement is driven by a feeling that our political system is rigged against ordinary people, that citizens can’t make a difference, and that the elite simply works in their own interest. This type of disengagement is far more malignant, posing a threat to people’s commitment to democracy itself.

That is why the report argues that levels of engagement should not be taken as a proxy for satisfaction. Instead, we think that Britain’s democracy will be stronger and healthier if we focus more on ensuring that everyone feels they have a stake in the system and that more people’s voices are heard in decision-making, rather than a sole focus on higher levels of engagement.

Drawing on the findings in this report, with its emphasis on those least engaged and satisfied, the report identifies nine recommendations for renewing democracy in the UK.

  • Focus on satisfaction and trust, not higher engagement.
  • To increase participation, meet disengaged and low trust Britons on their own terms
  • Select political candidates who are more representative
  • Belonging and place should be at the centre of efforts towards greater devolution
  • Accountability in public life needs to be improved – substantively and visibly.
  • Politicians, journalists, and campaigners should think twice before trashing political life
  • Use schools as places to foster strong democratic commitment among young people
  • Link democratic principles to Britons’ pride, values, and sense of identity

In an era of increasing media fragmentation, more needs to be done to tackle disinformation and present a common view of the ‘facts’.