McDougall Trust

Promoting public understanding
of electoral democracy

7 Mar 2019

Doing Democracy Better

Major McDougall-funded Report by Constitution Unit UCL published.

Doing Democracy Better:  How Can Information and Discourse in Election and Referendum Campaigns in the UK be improved? Report published March 2019, co-authored by Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit, with Michela Palese as Research Assistant and McDougall Fellow.

Recent developments have led many people of all political persuasions to worry that the quality of political discourse - an essential part of democracy - 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.

 

After examining existing practice in the UK and around the world, the core recommendation of the report is that a new 'information hub', containing information of many types, should be established to give voters ready access to information during election and referendum periods.

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. Wherever possible, processes of deliberation among citizens would be integral to the development of these materials.

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

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 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 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 developed proposals for how the conduct of election and referendum campaigns could be reformed to improve the quality of campaign discourse.

The report's core recommendation is that a new 'information hub', containing information of many types, should be established to give voters ready access to information during election and referendum periods.  Information that should be available includes:

  • 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.

Download Doing Democracy Better (PDF, 5.5Mb)

 

Work of the above project was drawn upon inter alia, by the Independent Commission on Referendums, supported by the Constitution Unit, which reviewed regulation and practice of referendums and developed recommendations for their use and conduct in the UK.  Their detailed report was published on 10 July 2018, ISBN 978-1-903903-83-4.

 

 

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