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Democracy research Shared political power makes citizens happier

Podium with government members and crowd of people below

Power-sharing is not only about voters' participation in ballots, elections or an open-air citizens' assembly but also about regional autonomy, parliaments and consultations.

(Keystone/Patrick Huerlimann)

Citizens living in countries with developed direct democratic institutions are more satisfied with politics than those in centralised democratic systems, according to a long-term study. 

Researchers from the Swiss university of Bern found that systems with a wide-ranging power-sharing mechanism between the government, parliament, parties, regional authorities and other institutions – so-called proportional or consensus democracies - lead to a comparatively high satisfaction rate. 

The studyexternal link is based on data from 61 democratic countries, measuring the behaviour of political actors as well as the performance and legitimacy of political systems. 

The list of proportional democracies includes Belgium, Lithuania, Italy, Uruguay and Switzerland – the champion of direct democracy, according to a press release by Bern University. 


However, a strong concentration of political power with more authoritarian  governments tends to lead to lower citizens’ satisfaction with the democracy but it appears to result in higher turnout in elections and votes, the study authors say. 

They point out the complex set of different factors which contribute to a well-functioning participative democracy. 

“Democracies with strong power-sharing systems, including Switzerland, can only continue to function properly if they have strong and stable institutions, and a political elite ready and willing to dialogue and compromise,” says Adrian Vatter, professor of political science at Bern University. 

The study complied by Vatter and Julian Bernauer, took eight years to complete and covers the period between 1990 and 2015, analysing the character of democracies across the world.

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