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Democracy survey Poll: Europeans want more direct participation

Most European citizens are in favour of participating more directly in political decisions through referendums and initiatives


A majority of Europeans are strongly in favour of directly participating in decision-making processes via referendums, but democratic governments often fail of to live up to public expectations, a new survey has revealed.

According to the European Social Surveyexternal link published on September 15, most Europeans feel that citizens should be given the opportunity to participate directly in decision-making through referendums. Respondents rated the social and direct democracy dimensions of democracy eight out of ten on average.

But at present, direct democracy and, even more noticeably, social democracy fail to reach an average score of five out of ten in most countries when it comes to citizens’ assessment of what their political systems are actually offering them.

“Considering that these two dimensions also find strong support among Europeans as something important for democracy, there is an evident failure of democratic governments to live up to public expectations,” the authors wrote in their report.

Researchers Mónica Ferrin from the University of Zurich and Hanspeter Kriesi from the European University Institute in Florence assessed 54,600 standardised face-to-face interviews in 29 countries to study Europeans’ attitudes towards democracy.

An universal value

They found that democracy is seen by many as a universal value and considered to be the best possible system to organise citizens’ preferences. There is a common understanding that it encompasses three distinct aspects: liberal democracy, social democracy and direct democracy.

Europeans believe free and fair elections and equality before the law are also key features of a liberal electoral democracy. They also attach importance to social justice aspects such as protection against poverty and reduced income equality.

A large majority of countries consider it important to live in a country that is governed democratically.

With the exception of Portugal, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia, the remaining 24 countries in Europe are strongly committed to the idea of democracy with a support of at least 8 out of 10. The highest support was measured in Cyprus with 9.5 and in Russia with 6.5.