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On this International Day of Democracy, is it time to start learning from the countries that do it best?

Posted on 15 September 2014 by Nevena Ilic, Researcher
Tags: Europe, European Social Survey, democracy, elections, political trust, voting

This is an exciting time for British democracy and politics. In just three days’ time the people of Scotland will vote on whether they wish to remain a part of the UK or become an independent nation. As if that’s not enough, the national election is less than a year away and just a few months ago we had the local and European elections.

Living in a functioning democracy is very important to the people of Great Britain. Data from the latest European Social Survey saw the British public give an average score of 8.4 out of 10 on the importance of living in a democratically-governed country, and the good news is that over the last three decades, Brits have grown more proud of the way that democracy works in their country.

Data from the 2013 British Social Attitudes survey shows that the proportion of people that reported feeling very proud of the way democracy works in Britain increased by four percentage points from 14% in 1995 to 18% in 2013, and the percentage of those that felt somewhat proud rose by 5 points from 52% to 57%.


However, these findings also highlight that there is still a lot of progress to be made, as a quarter of Brits expressed feeling not very proud or not proud at all of the way democracy works in Britain. Furthermore, when asked by the European Social Survey how satisfied people were with the way democracy works in their country, the British public produced an average score of just 5.58 out of 10, indicating that there is a democratic deficit and placing Britain 10th out of the 29 European countries surveyed.

The five countries that ranked highest were Switzerland followed by four Scandinavian countries.

Democracy Day

This is not a huge surprise as Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland frequently top surveys measuring development indicatorssuch as prosperity and happiness. Switzerland’s success is often attributed to its direct democracy approach and the Scandinavian countries’ success to their social democracies – the combination of a free market economy and a strong welfare state.

In light of the success of Scandinavian countries, the Scottish National Party is running a strong campaign by promising an independent Scotland based on the Nordic democratic model.  And by the looks of it, the Scots are not the only ones who feel that we need more from our democracy.

With evidence of a democratic deficit in the UK, and the possibility of Scotland leaving the Union, perhaps it is time to reflect on what it is that our democracy is lacking. And in doing so, why not start by examining the factors that make the Swiss and Scandinavians so much more satisfied with their democracies than Brits. 

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