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Improving Discourse During Election and Referendum Campaigns

Plato and Aristotle, or Philosophy. Marble panel from the North side, lower basement of the bell tower of Florence, Italy. Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Quality political discourse is an essential part of democracy.  But recent developments – including the rise of digital campaigning, as well as events such as the UK’s 2016 EU referendum campaign and the 2016 US presidential election campaign – have led many people of all political persuasions to worry that the quality of discourse is currently too low. Particular concerns focus on the need for balanced and reliable information and on the dangers posed by the easy availability of seductive misinformation.

This project has sought to understand how the quality of information and public discussion during election and referendum campaigns could be improved. By examining existing practice in the UK and around the world, as well as proposals for innovative reforms, the project has developed proposals for how the conduct of election and referendum campaigns could be reformed to improve the quality of campaign discourse.

 

The project’s main output is a report, Doing Democracy Better: How Can Information and Discourse in Election and Referendum Campaigns in the UK Be Improved?, co-authored by Alan Renwick and Michela Palese and published in March 2019.

Read the report

Read the news story

The report’s 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 project was generously funded by the McDougall Trust. It was led by Dr Alan Renwick, with Michela Palese as Research Assistant and McDougall Fellow.

Outputs

Report

Articles and Book Chapters

Blogposts

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