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"Being British Today": findings from annual British Social Attitudes survey released

City University London academics contribute chapter on democracy
by John Stevenson

Debates about identity, integration and inclusion have rarely left the headlines this year. We have witnessed politicians disagreeing over immigration, Scottish independence and what it means to be British. But what do the British public think about these issues? In NatCen's 31st British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey they uncover how Britain feels about itself - on issues such as democracy, national identity and immigration.

City University London's Rory Fitzgerald and Dr Sarah Butt authored the chapter 'Democracy: Critical consensus? Britain's expectations and evaluations of democracy', as part of this year's BSA. With the referendum on Scotland due in a few months and the general election next year, this chapter is of particular resonance.

Fitzgerald and Butt found that:

  • A huge majority (85 per cent) of the British public believe that to be "truly British" it is important to respect Britain's political institutions and laws. However, there is a considerable discrepancy between the public's expectations and their perceptions of what British democracy actually delivers. A sizeable minority of people perceive a "democratic deficit" in Britain.
  • Although, on average people give a mark of 8 out of 10 when asked how free and fair they think British elections are, they give a mark of only 6 out of 10 when asked whether they think the courts treat people fairly - or whether the media provide information that is sufficiently reliable to judge the government.
  • The British public are especially sceptical of the government's ability to explain decisions to voters and to protect citizens from poverty. People in Britain give an average mark of 8 out of 10 when asked how important these things are in a democracy - but one of just 5 out of 10 when asked how far they are achieved in practice.

In addition to the chapter on democracy, the BSA 2014 report contains chapters on:

Read the full BSA 2014 report.

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