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The dangers of election fever

20 February 2015
The dangers of election fever

Is there an unnecessary fatalism about representative democracy today? Contemporary accounts paint a bleak picture: the death of political parties, democracy ‘hollowed out’, and a mutual withdrawal from politics by both citizens and politicians.

David Farrell of University College Dublin argues that these indicators do not add up to a picture that is less democratic. Rather, democracy is evolving. We are on the cusp of a transformation from a ‘vote-centred’ to a ‘voice-centred’ democracy. Political parties are slow to adapt – but there is a significant first mover advantage for those that do.

As Claudia Chwalisz of Policy Network argues in her lead essay, we need to go beyond thinking that democracy is synonymous with elections. New forms of contact democracy and forums that allow political and economic institutions to deliberate with citizens are vital steps in the long-term battle to renew representative democracy for the 21st century. Initiatives such as randomly selected citizens’ assemblies should not be seen as a threat to formal democracy, but as add-ons that enrich it.

Matt Wood of the University of Sheffield emphasises that political deliberation should extend further, to access more levels of society. For political leaders to fully represent and involve their constituents in complex decision-making, investment in innovative participatory experiments is needed.

New technology is often seen as another part of the equation. However, we should treat such claims with care. As Marc Hooghe, Sofie Marien and Jennifer Oser argue, the internet may help close some political inequalities, but it is not an accurate representation of public opinion. The propensity to use the internet for political purposes is still much higher among the highly educated and well-off. Though it help some groups, notably women and young people, ‘hashtag activism’ is not the solution to democratic inequality.

Commenting critically on the UK parliament’s Commission on Digital Democracy, Gerry Stoker of the University of Southampton suggests we need a more honest debate about the failing of politics. While the report does not assume that there is a technological quick-fix solution to our democratic problems, he suggests that “only when politics changes and the behaviour of politicians becomes more focused on ‘doing the right thing,’ will citizens be prepared to engage”.

Democracy is about more than just elections. The politicians and parties that ignore these trends will suffer.


These articles are a contribution to the Policy Network and Barrow Cadbury Trust project ‘Understanding the populist signal’.


Democratic decline or democratic evolution?

by DAVID FARRELL

The way that people engage in politics is changing, but it is a mistake to necessarily equate this with democratic decline

 

 

An Athenian solution to democratic discontent

by CLAUDIA CHWALISZ

New forms of contact democracy and innovative forums that allow political and economic institutions to deliberate with citizens are important steps in the long-term battle to renew representative democracy for the 21st century
 

 

How can democracy compete in the age of information overload

by MATT WOOD

Compared to the amount of private corporate advertising they are bombarded with, the public know practically nothing about what goes on in government

 

 

Why 'hashtag activism' is not the solution for democratic inequality

by MARC HOOGHE, JENNIFER OSER and SOFIE MARIEN

The internet offers of swathe of new opportunities for democratic interaction, but how does this affect engagement levels among different groups?
 

 

 

Anti-politics: a supply problem not an engagement problem

by GERRY STOKER

Only when politics changes and the behaviour of politicians becomes more focused on ‘doing the right thing’ will citizens be prepared to engage
 

 

Photo credits:

secretlondon123

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