Deliberative Versus Parliamentary Democracy in the UK: An Experimental Study

Webb, Paul, Bale, Tim and Taggart, Paul (2011) Deliberative Versus Parliamentary Democracy in the UK: An Experimental Study. Working Paper. Sussex European Institute, University of Sussex, Falmer, UK.

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This paper reports the results of new research funded by the Leverhulme Foundation, which employs experimental design to assess two hypotheses which are derived from the existing literature on popular alienation from politics and the potential for deliberative democracy to offer a solution to such alienation. The first hypothesis is that there are two quite different types of citizen who are `disaffected with or `disconnected from politics, but in distinctive ways: `Dissatisfied Democrats (middle class, educated, activist and articulate devotees of a vision of highly engaged citizens); and `Stealth Democrats (low socio-economic status, less educated, inactive, with little interest in politics, who are absorbed largely by private concerns). The second hypothesis is that deliberative-style participation would at best only be effective in respect of the former of these groups (the Dissatisfied Democrats), but would be counter-productive with respect to the latter (Stealth Democrats). While the former may chafe at the participatory limitations of traditional forms of representative democracy such as party and electoral politics, and have the confidence that they could thrive in the context of greater institutional opportunities for participation, the `Stealth Democrats are actually more vulnerable to political marginalization, for they are less likely to thrive through or seek out direct and active engagement. The implications of the research findings into these issues should be important for the reforms that the political elites who attempt to respond to the problem of democratic disconnect devise. The research design in this paper makes use of both qualitative and quantitative data based on a small sample of British citizens. Both offer broad confirmation of the first hypothesis: we can indeed distinguish two rather different type of critical citizens: measures of political interest, efficacy and trust generally reveal a notable distinction between those whom we had a priori designated as Dissatisfied and Stealth Democrats. Neither qualitative nor quantitative evidence, however, suggests grounds for accepting the second hypothesis. There is no obvious sign that those we defined as Stealth Democrats derived any less enjoyment from political deliberation than their Dissatisfied Democrat counterparts, nor that their sense of political efficacy or self-confidence suffered for the experience.

Item Type: Reports and working papers (Working Paper)
Additional Information: SEI Working Paper No. 118
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Politics
Subjects: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN0101 Great Britain
Depositing User: Paul Webb
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 19:40
Last Modified: 14 May 2012 09:05
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