There is widespread evidence that citizens across western democracies are distrustful of, and discontented with, the nature and outcomes of politics. Most of the existing research on this issue focuses on citizens’ evaluations of existing political arrangements. Yet in order to understand public negativity towards the political system, we also need to understand the kind of democratic processes that citizens would prefer. Only a limited set of studies has so far been conducted on popular preferences for alternative political arrangements, focusing on features such as the nature of political representation and the opportunities for direct participation in policy decisions. Citizens may, however, hold preferences on other features of the political process, such as the degree of transparency in decision making, the accountability and responsiveness of office holders and the partisan/non-partisan quality of policy decisions.
The goal of this workshop is to bring together research that identifies how citizens evaluate existing democratic procedures and what kind of demands and aspirations they have for the way politics should be conducted. The workshop is primarily oriented towards empirical studies of the way citizens view existing and alternative political arrangements. It is designed to bring together country case studies and comparative analyses, enabling us to explore variations in citizen preferences across individuals and contexts, and thus enhancing our understanding of the mechanisms underlying popular attitudes. By more systematically exploring the ‘gap’ between the politics that citizens desire, and their perceptions of how politics is actually conducted, the workshop should help us to develop a fuller account of citizen distrust and discontent across western democracies.