Judging Democratic Politics: Exploring Public Opinion and Reform Preferences

Document Information

Conference Paper

  • Published: September 2014
  • Authors: Gerry Stoker, Mark Evans, Jinjing Li and Max Halupka
  • Conference Title: the European Consortium for Political Research
  • Conference Location: Glasglow, UK


We know there is evidence of disenchantment with political practice in contemporary democracies but what is it that is driving this negativity towards politics?

This paper uses new survey questions and cluster analysis to explore the rough and ready ideas -

folk theories - that citizens have about how democratic politics works, why it fails and how the political system might be reformed for the better. Using material from empirical work undertaken early in 2014 in Australia it shows that there are comprehensible patterns to public opinion.

Democracy is admired for the stability and benefits it delivers and the opportunity it affords to hold politicians to account and its current practice is disliked because of the perception that there is

too much power in the hands of big business and the media, resulting in broken promises from politicians. The reform options favoured by the public can be seen as a reasonable response to this analysis. A majority of citizens want to combine mechanisms to open up representative politics with an opportunity for more direct intervention by themselves. There are a range of opinion sets held by the public and some notable generational differences as to which folk theories attract support,

with younger cohorts generally taking more critica stances towards formal politics. Modest differences also emerge in the social composition of clusters along other dimensions as well. Yet our

exploratory study reveals, above all, citizens who share a lot of the same likes and dislikes about politics and a lot of the same reform ideas.


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