McDougall Trust

Promoting public understanding
of electoral democracy

McDougall Trust's Research Support

McDougall Trust encourages and has supported research into aspects of electoral democracy, with a longstanding focus on representative institutions, voting systems and elections.


Doing Democracy Better 

Major McDougall-funded Report by Constitution Unit UCL, March 2019         

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.

Download Doing Democracy Better (PDF, 5.5Mb)

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

The report was published in March 2019, co-authored by Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit at UCL, with Michela Palese as Research Assistant and McDougall Fellow.

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 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.  

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.

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. 

This Commission included former cabinet ministers, other current and former parliamentarians, the former Chair of the Electoral Commission, a former head of political programming at the BBC, and other leaders in the fields of political theory, media standards and public opinion. Chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling KCB, former Permanent Secretary at the Northern Ireland Office, the other members of the Commission were:  The Rt Rev. the Lord Eames OM;  Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP;  Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP;  Sue Inglish;  Seema Malhotra MP;  Deborah Mattinson;  Dr Martin Moore;  Professor David Runciman;  Rt Hon Gisela Stuart;  Jenny Watson CBE;  Andrew Wilson.

This Commission's terms of reference were to consider:

  • the place that referendums should play in the UK's system of representative democracy
  • the legal effect of referendums and whether any additional constitutional safeguards are needed
  • the role of government during the campaign
  • the regulation of the designated campaign groups
  • the provision of public information and education, and promotion of informed debate. 

The Commission consulted widely and met regularly between autumn 2017 and summer 2018.   Their detailed report was published on 10 July 2018, ISBN 978-1-903903-83-4.

Other Research supported by McDougall Trust

In recent years, topics for research and information dissemination activities supported by McDougall Trust grant-making have included:

McDougall funds a prize offered annually for the best postgraduate thesis at a UK university in the sphere of elections, electoral systems and representation. The prize is awarded by the Political Studies Association [PSA] in association with its Elections, Public Opinion and Parties [EPOP] group.  For the list of recent prize-winning research, see further Research and Information Dissemination supported by McDougall Grant making.

McDougall itself occasionally commissions research for publication on contemporary issues which are the subject of public policy debates. An example is the report commissioned when the government introduced a Bill providing for the introduction of individual electoral registration in Great Britain.  Comments on the Proposed System of Individual Electoral Registration in Great Britain (2012) by Patrick Bradley, formerly Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, can be downloaded from Papers, Videos and other materials.

For further information
see Research and Information Dissemination previously supported by McDougall Grant making.



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