The Constitution Unit


New report: Doing Democracy Better

7 March 2019

A new approach to providing information during election and referendum campaigns is vital for the health of our democracy. That is the conclusion of a major new report published today by the Constitution Unit.

Doing Democracy Better: How Can Information and Discourse in Election and Referendum Campaigns in the UK Be Improved?

Read the report here

Read the executive summary here

The report, Doing Democracy Better: How Can Information and Discourse in Election and Referendum Campaigns in the UK Be Improved?, is a response to widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of political discourse and the information available to voters during recent election and referendum campaigns. The authors, Alan Renwick and Michela Palese, provide detailed analysis of nine distinct strategies for improving information and discourse. Drawing on extensive research into practice around the democratic world, they draw up a set of proposals for reform in the UK.

Their core recommendation is that a new ‘information hub’ should be established to give voters ready access to information during election and referendum periods. Information of many types should be available, including:

  • basic information on where, when, and how to vote
  • factual information on who the candidates are in any given area
  • ‘voting advice applications’ that help voters compare their policy preferences to parties’ positions or to referendum options
  • policy analyses exploring, for example, how policy proposals would affect the state of the economy or the health of public services
  • evidence from deliberative exercises on what ordinary citizens think about the issues at stake when they have the chance to learn about, discuss, and consider those issues in depth.

The authors argue that, to ensure quality and sustainability, the information hub should be publicly funded and run by an independent public body. This body would not generate all the materials itself, but would gather them from diverse sources, vetted for quality and impartiality. Wherever possible, processes of deliberation among citizens would be integral to the development of all these materials.

The report and the research underpinning it were generously funded by the McDougall Trust.

Dr Alan Renwick, report co-author and Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit, said:

Several recent reports propose ways of defending our democracy from threats posed by the digital revolution. But our report is different. Disillusionment with the state of our democracy runs deep. We need to strengthen our existing democratic practice, not just sustain it. Our proposed information hub would empower voters by helping them find information they trust on the questions they want answers to. Over time that could transform how our democracy works.

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