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Understanding and Enhancing Democracy - A New Agenda

Citizenship
Democracy
Political Participation
Ank Michels
University of Utrecht
Ank Michels
University of Utrecht
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Abstract

Research on democratic innovations has shown that citizen involvement has a number of positive effects on democracy: it increases issue knowledge, civic skills, and public engagement, and it contributes to the support for decisions among the participants. Also, we know that the contribution of participation to democracy differs according to type of democratic innovations; deliberative forums appear to be better at promoting the exchange of arguments, whereas referendums and participatory policy making projects are better at giving citizens influence on policy making and involving more people. But, since these positive effects are perceptible only to those taking part and the number of participants is often small or particular groups are underrepresented, the benefits to individual democratic citizenship are far more conclusive than the benefits to democracy as a whole. The question is what type of democracy is supported by those people who are not taking part? Preliminary research in the Netherlands on individual attitudes towards different forms of democracy suggests that a lot of people, and the lower-educated in particular, are dissatisfied; they want change and demand for an alternative decision-making process; an alternative that would contain both less citizens’ involvement (stealth democracy) and more engagement (direct democracy) compared to representative democracy. This suggests that opportunities for citizens’ involvement is not likely to be a magic solution for public engagement and democratic legitimacy. Ank Michels, Utrecht University, School of Governance, Utrecht, The Netherlands, a.m.b.michels@uu.nl