Skip navigation
The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Revealed: Democracy at risk as just 6 per cent say voters have most influence over political decisions

  • Half of adults believe party donors, businesses or lobbyists have more sway than voters over government decisions, new polling finds
  • ‘Giving back control’ to citizens should be a dividing line for parties at next election, IPPR urges
  • It’s not just in Ukraine that we must stand up for democratic values – we also need to renew them at home, says think tank


An alarming collapse of public satisfaction in politicians, the current democratic system and the ability of voters to affect government decisions is revealed by polling for an IPPR report on UK democracy, published today.

Only around one person in 20 (6 per cent) believes voters have the most powerful influence on government decision making, according to the polling – with around half of all adults (53 per cent) saying that party donors, businesses or lobby groups wield the greatest power.

Meanwhile almost four out of five people (78 per cent) consider that politicians understand the lives of people like them “badly” and fewer than one quarter of under-50s believe that democracy in Britain as a whole serves the interests of people like them well.

The report, Road to Renewal, draws on YouGov polling of 3,442 adults commissioned by IPPR, the Electoral Reform Society and Unlock Democracy to argue for an urgent rethink of how democracy in the UK works. It calls for steps to reconnect citizens with politics and politicians and give them a greater say.

It also charts four decades during which voters across all advanced democracies have expressed ‘silent’ and ‘noisy’ protests against the way democratic politics have increasingly been conducted, leading to the current ‘democratic crisis’.

  • 'Silent protest’ includes citizens disengaging from democratic politics, by not voting at elections and by shunning membership of political parties (see note X below)
  • ‘Noisy protest’ includes increasing volatility as voters switch between parties, and the rise in support for populist challengers – such as with Brexit and the rise of UKIP, the election of Donald Trump and the surge of far-right parties in Europe

The report warns that social democratic parties that mimic the nationalist and authoritarian approach of right-wing populists, without tackling the root causes of discontent with the political system, jeopardise both the foundations of liberal democracy and – crucially - their own prospects of securing power.

It argues that this means tackling the decline in status and the lack of voice that many groups feel as a result of sweeping economic, social and political transformations since the 1980s – including deindustrialisation, increased immigration and the professionalisation of politics.

Among other key findings of the YouGov polling on satisfaction with democracy in Britain are that:

  • People living in the least deprived neighbourhoods are 70 per cent more likely to say “democracy addresses their interests well” than people living in the most deprived neighbourhoods.
  • People aged over 65 are over twice (2.4 times) as likely to say “democracy addresses their interests well” compared to people aged 18 to 24.
  • Four times as many people believe “more decisions should be made by devolved and local governments” than those who believe the government in Westminster should have more power.

Dr Parth Patel, IPPR Research Fellow, said:

“In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine our leaders have lined up to champion liberal democracy. But the reality is that the battle for democracy needs not only to be won abroad, it must be won at home too.

"In truth, democracies have not been delivering well for their citizens. Politicians and parties are increasingly out of touch and the sway of ordinary citizens over public policy has declined. Many are opting out of political participation altogether, while large numbers have lent their support to populist challengers -- signs of a protest against ‘democracy as usual’. 

“Mainstream political parties on both sides have chosen to imitate the divisive politics of populist challengers, rather than to tackle the underlying causes of democratic discontent. They must now take a long, hard look in the mirror and commit to meaningful reforms that put the voices of citizens back at the centre of democracy. 'Giving back control’ should be a dividing line at the next election.”

ENDS

Parth Patel and Harry Quilter-Pinner (IPPR director of research and engagement), the co-authors of the report, are available for interview

CONTACT

David Wastell, Director of News and Communications: 07921 403651 [email protected]

Robin Harvey, Senior Digital and Media Officer: 07779 204798 [email protected]

NOTES TO EDITORS

  1. The IPPR paper, Road to Renewal: elections, parties and the case for democratic reform by Parth Patel and Harry Quilter-Pinner, is published on Sunday April 10. It will be available for download at: http://www.ippr.org/research/publications/road-to-renewal
  2. YouGov interviewed a nationally representative sample of 3,442 adults in Great Britain on December 21 and 22, 2021. The polling was jointly commissioned for this report by IPPR, the Electoral Reform Society and Unlock Democracy.
  3. Key evidence for ‘silent’ and ‘noisy’ protest against developed democratic systems include:
    - Voter turnout across advanced democracies fell from an average of 81 per cent during the 1970s to 71 per cent in the 2010s.
    - Turnout in the UK has been below the average across advanced democracies in every general election since 1951.
    - The proportion of the UK electorate that is a member of a political party has fallen from around one in 12 citizens in the 1950s to around one in 50 citizens today.
    - The 2010, 2015 and 2017 UK general elections had the highest ever levels of voter switching.
    - The vote share of right-wing populist parties has doubled across advanced democracies in the since the 1970s, from 6 per cent in the 1970s to 12 per cent in the 2010s.
  4. The paper is the second in a series exploring challenges to the democratic system. The first paper, Trust Issues, is at: https://www.ippr.org/research/publications/trust-issues
  5. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and elsewhere, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence. www.ippr.org