Dr Alan Renwick
Position: Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit
Location: 3.15, 29-30 Tavistock Square
Telephone: 0207 679 4987 (Internal: 24987)
Alan Renwick joined UCL in September 2015. His expertise lies mainly in the areas of electoral systems, referendums, and other modes of engaging the public in decision-making processes, such as citizens’ assemblies. His research is comparative: besides the UK, his recent projects have included all European democracies as well as New Zealand, Japan, and Canada.
Alan works with policy-makers on a range of issues. He became a source of authoritative, impartial evidence during the UK’s electoral system referendum of 2011. He has provided evidence to parliamentary select committees on a range of topics, including electoral reform, reform of the House of Lords, and provision allowing the recall of MPs. He is currently engaged with those interested in understanding how to improve the quality of information available during election and referendum campaigns and how to bring a more deliberative approach to politics. Outside the UK, he has also provided advice and participated in debates in a range of settings, including Egypt, Jordan, Hong Kong, and Jersey.
Before coming to UCL, Alan was based at the Universities of Oxford and Reading. He obtained his doctorate, on processes of institutional design in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland during transition from communism, in 2004. He was a postdoctoral research fellow at New College, Oxford from 2003 until 2008 and a Departmental Lecturer in Comparative Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford, from 2005 to 2006. He was based at the University of Reading, latterly as Reader and Associate Professor of Comparative Politics, between 2008 and 2015.
Alan Renwick’s research falls within two of the Constitution Unit’s research themes: Elections and Referendums, and Constitutions and Constitution-Making
Alan Renwick is one of the world’s leading experts on processes of electoral reform: he has written two major academic books on the subject and a third book aimed for a general audience. He has also contributed to public debates in the UK and elsewhere. His most recent research focuses in particular on the ‘personalization’ of European electoral systems. He is currently working on the performance of the UK electoral system and debates about electoral reform.
Alan also conducts research on referendums. He is looking in particular at the quality of the debates that take place during referendum campaigns and at how opinion changes over the course of these campaigns. Both of these research strands are intended to feed into better understanding of the contributions – positive and negative – that referendums might make to democratic systems.
Alan is also increasingly interested in mechanisms besides elections and referendums through which members of the public may be enabled to participate in decision-making processes. In particular, he is working on the role that can be played by citizens’ assemblies and other organs comprising ordinary citizens who are selected by lot. This is outlined below in relation to his work on constitutional conventions.
Alan leads the Constitution Unit’s work on Brexit and the UK’s evolving relationship with the European Union. He published a report in early 2017 setting out how the politics of Brexit is likely to unfold within the UK. He is leading a project to run a Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit September 2017, which will give unique insight into what kind of Brexit members of the public prefer when they have had the chance to learn and think in depth about the options. This project is part of the ESRC-funded UK in a Changing Europe initiative.
Alan has been a leading voice in the recent upsurge of interest in the UK in the idea of establishing a constitutional convention to consider issues of constitutional and democratic reform. He has explored different forms that such a convention might take and is now focusing particularly on the citizens’ assembly model, where deliberation takes place in an assembly that is wholly or partly comprised of randomly selected citizens. The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit is the latest phase of this work.
He is also working on the evolution of democracy in the UK since 1945, looking at the changing roles of citizens and other actors in British politics, at changes in expectations about those roles, and at the evolution of discourse around various political reforms.
Alan Renwick has written or co-written three books:
- Faces on the Ballot: The Personalization of Electoral Systems in Europe (Oxford University Press, 2016), co-authored with Jean-Benoit Pilet.
- A Citizen’s Guide to Electoral Reform (Biteback, 2011).
- The Politics of Electoral Reform: Changing the Rules of Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
He has also written a number of highly influential reports and briefing papers that have contributed to debates about political reform in the UK:
- Blueprint for a UK Constitutional Convention (Constitution Unit, 2017)
- The Process of Brexit (UCL European Institute and Constitution Unit, 2017).
- After the Referendum: Options for a Constitutional Convention (Constitution Society, 2014).
- House of Lords Reform: A Briefing Paper (Political Studies Association, 2011).
- The Alternative Vote: A Briefing Paper (Political Studies Association, 2011).
He has published a range of articles in academic journals:
- “Citizen Participation and Changing Governance: Cases of Devolution in England”. Policy & Politics 45, no. 2 (April 2017), 251–69. Co-authored with Brenton, Prosser, Arianna Giovannini, Mark Sandford, Matthew Flinders, Will Jennings, Graham Smith, Paolo Spada, Gerry Stoker, and Katie Ghose.
- “A British Constitutional Convention?" Political Insight, Volume 6, Issue 2 (September 2015) 8-11
- “Is the Future of Electoral Reform Local?”, Political Quarterly 85, no. 3 (July–September 2014), 368–72.
- “The Quality of Referendum Debate: The UK’s Electoral System Referendum in the Print Media”, with Michael Lamb, Electoral Studies 32, no. 2 (June 2013), 294–304.
- “The UK’s Electoral Reform Referendum of May 2011”, with Samantha Laycock, Daniel Stevens, and Jack Vowles, Electoral Studies 32, no. 2 (June 2013), 211–14.
- “Im Interesse der Macht: Ungarns neues Wahlsystem”, Osteuropa 62, no. 5 (2012), 3–17.
- “Electoral Reform in Europe since 1945”, West European Politics 34, no. 3 (May 2011), 456–77.
- “The Role of Dissident Values in Institutional Choice: 1989 in Comparative Perspective”, East European Politics and Societies 25, no. 2 (May 2011), 296–317.
- “The Expenses Scandal and the Politics of Electoral Reform”, with Michael Lamb and Berna Numan, Political Quarterly 82, no. 1 (January–March 2011), 32–41.
- “Do ‘Wrong Winner’ Elections Trigger Electoral Reform? Lessons from New Zealand”, Representation 45, no. 4 (November 2009), 357–67.
- “How Likely Is Proportional Representation in the House of Commons? Lessons from International Experience”, Government & Opposition 44, no. 4 (October 2009), 366–84.
- “Partisan Self-Interest and Electoral Reform: The New Italian Electoral Law of 2005”, with Chris Hanretty and David Hine, Electoral Studies 28, no. 3 (September 2009), 437–47.
- “Why Did National Promise a Referendum on Electoral Reform in 1990?”, Political Science 59, no. 1 (June 2007), 7–22.
- “Antipolitical or Just Anticommunist? Varieties of Dissidence in East-Central Europe, and their Implications for the Development of Political Society”, East European Politics and Societies 20, no. 2 (spring 2006), 286–318.
- “Why Hungary and Poland Differed in 1989: The Role of Medium-Term Frames in Explaining the Outcomes of Democratic Transition”, Democratization 13, no. 1 (February 2006), 36–57.
- “Modelling Multiple Goals: Electoral System Preferences in Hungary in 1989”, Europe-Asia Studies 57, no. 7 (November 2005), 995–1019.
Finally, he has published a number of chapters in edited volumes:
- “Public Debate”. In Anand Menon (ed.), EU Referendum: One Year On. London: Political Studies Association and UK in a Changing Europe, 2017, pp. 10–11.
- “The Performance of the Electoral System”. In Einar Thorsen, Dan Jackson, Darren Lilleker (eds.), UK Election Analysis 2017: Media, Voters, and the Campaign: Early Reflections from Leading Academics. Bournemouth: Centre for the Study of Journalism, Culture, and Community, Bournemouth University, 2017, p. 12.
- “Referendums”. In Kai Arzheimer, Jocelyn Evans, and Michael Lewis-Beck (eds.), Sage Handbook of Electoral Behaviour. London: Sage, 2017, pp. 433–58.
- “Voting Behaviour and Electoral Outcomes”. In Richard Heffernan, Colin Hay, Meg Russell, and Philip Cowley (eds.), Developments in British Politics 10. London: Palgrave, 2016, pp. 39–56.
- “Calming the Storm: Fighting Falsehoods, Fig Leaves and Fairy Tales”. In Daniel Jackson, Einar Thorsen, and Dominic Wring (eds.), EU Referendum Analysis 2016: Media, Voters and the Campaign. London: Political Studies Association, 2016, p. 31. Co-authored with Matthew Flinders and Will Jennings.
- “Don’t trust your poll lead: How public opinion changes during referendum campaigns.” In Philip Cowley and Robert Ford (eds.), Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box. London: Biteback, 2014, pp. 79–84.
- “Introduction to ECPR Classics Edition.” In Stein Rokkan, Citizens, Elections, Parties: Approaches to the Comparative Study of the Processes of Development. Colchester: ECPR Press, 2009, pp. i–xix. First edition published by Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, 1970.
- “The Role of Non-Elite Forces in the Regime Change.” In András Bozóki (ed.), The Roundtable Talks of 1989: The Genesis of Hungarian Democracy. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2002, pp. 191–210.
- “East Meets West”, with Gábor Tóka. In Roger Jowell et al., British—and European—Social Attitudes: The 15th Report: How Britain Differs. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998, pp. 149–171.
- Blog Posts
Thursday, 19 April 2018
Ongoing Constitution Unit research is exploring how quality of information and public discussion during election and referendum campaigns can be improved. In recent years, voting advice applications have been promoted as a way of providing impartial, good-quality information on salient issues and parties’ positions thereon. Michela Palese outlines the debate on this topic and relates […]
Friday, 23 March 2018
Two decades have passed since there was last a serious consideration of how the UK uses referendums. For this reason, the Constitution Unit established the Independent Commission on Referendums to examine whether and how the way in which referendums are regulated in the UK should be changed. Ahead of a public event in Edinburgh, the […]
Friday, 19 January 2018
On 17 January, Jess Sargeant attended a Constitution Unit seminar entitled The Independent Commission on Referendums: who, what, why, and how. The aim of the event was to discuss the work of the Commission, which has no affiliation to any political party or campaign groups, but which does receive research support from the Constitution Unit. The session sought […]
Tuesday, 09 January 2018
Earlier this year, the Constitution Unit established an Independent Commission on Referendums to review the role of referendums in British democracy – whose work will be discussed at a public seminar next week. In this blogpost, Alan Renwick and Jess Sargeant examine some of the difficult questions the commission will have to consider. Their focus is on the […]
Thursday, 21 December 2017
The full report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit was launched last week with well-attended events in parliament and at UCL. Speakers included members of the project team, two Assembly members, an MP and leading EU experts. Hannah Dowling and Kelly Shuttleworth report on what was said. The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit gathered together 50 […]
Tuesday, 19 December 2017
Last week an expert panel published recommendations for reform of elections to the National Assembly for Wales. Among its recommendations was that the minimum voting age should be reduced from 18 to 16. Panel member Alan Renwick makes the case for this, citing evidence that suggests that voters are more likely to turn out when they […]