Democratic Satisfaction

The Centre for the Future of Democracy, based at the University of Cambridge, presents results examining democracy satisfaction levels from a combined dataset spanning multiple countries, 50 years and 4 million respondents. It found that dissatisfaction with democracy had risen over time, particularly in developed democracies, with the rise particularly steep since 2005. The United States, Brazil, Australia and the United Kingdom were among the large democracies currently recording their highest ever levels of dissatisfaction. More positive results were found in the so-called ‘island of contentment’, where satisfaction levels were at record highs. This area is made-up of small, high-income democracies such as Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands. As a continent, Asia had the greatest number of ‘bright spots’ of satisfaction. The report also considers possible explanations for the overall rise in dissatisfaction. A major factor is believed to be economic and political events, both on a global and a regional level. An increase in dissatisfaction across multiple countries accompanied the 2008 financial crash, the 2009 eurozone crisis, and the 2015 European refugee crisis. Rises in satisfaction, though less common, are also covered, including after the European Council’s agreement to form a European stability mechanism and the resultant lowering of sovereign debt. The report features multiple case studies focusing on results from specific countries and regions.   

Gender Diversity in Committee Witnesses

Writing for the LSE British Politics and Policy blog, Hugh Bochel uses the House of Commons sessional returns to examine the gender balance of witnesses appearing before select committees. In 2016–17, only 32% of discretionary witnesses appearing before select committees were female. A 2018 Liaison Committee report on this imbalance set a target of a minimum of 40% female discretionary witnesses and for at least one to be a woman on panels featuring three or more discretionary witnesses. According to the sessional returns, this target was met in the 2017–19 session. However, this figure varied significantly across committees. Some, such as the Women and Equalities and the Work and Pensions committees, had a majority of female discretionary witnesses. Others, such as the International Trade and Transport committees, remained dominated by male witnesses, with less than 10% of the Transport Committee’s discretionary witnesses being female. The number of women appearing before public bill committees stands at 28% of witnesses. Bochel compares these figures to those from the Scottish Parliament. He finds that, although Scottish committees have a wider remit than their Westminster counterparts (including both inquiry work and legislative scrutiny), they have an overall figure of 42% of female witnesses, only 2% off the most recent figures from Westminster. However, if Scottish committees are separated out to more accurately reflect the Westminster system of separate inquiry and legislative committees, the Scottish equivalents of public bill committees received a higher proportion of female witnesses than their Westminster counterparts. Bochel suggests this could be down to a recent drive in Holyrood to increase witness diversity, or because they undertake a broader range of work with a smaller population of witnesses to draw from.