Democracy as a concept: What Britons think about democracy 

Milan DinicDirector - Content Strategy and Innovation
December 03, 2020, 9:36 AM GMT+0

The YouGov Democracy Study reveals that despite eight in 10 Britons (78%) having a favourable view of democracy as a form of government, seven in ten see it as flawed and one in 11 think the majority opinion is usually wrong

Some of the most contentious news topics today - Brexit, UK devolution, controls on travel to stop the spread of COVID-19, the US elections - revolve around a single issue: democracy.

The first part of the YouGov Democracy Study assessed the attitudes and opinions of the British public about democracy as a concept.

Our study shows that fundamentally, democracy has a strong anchor in the UK, as nearly eight in 10 (77%) Britons think it works well or fairly well as a way of governing a country. Just one in nine (11%) think democracy works badly.

Whilst there is overwhelming support for democracy across society, a political split of public opinion shows some small but notable differences: while only six percent of Conservative voters think democracy as a concept works badly, this percentage is double among Labour (12%) and Lib Dem (11%) supporters.

It should be noted that this split in perception is likely impacted by the fact that Conservatives have been the party of government for the past 10 years, leaving the other two main parties in opposition. This is likely to impact the perception of their voters.

Despite the favourable view of democracy on the whole (78%), it should be said that notably fewer Britons – six in ten (63%) - think democracy works well when it comes to the UK specifically.

Like an echo of Winston Churchill’s 1947 comment that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried”, our study shows that an overwhelming majority of the British public (73%) think democracy does have faults but is better than any alternative.

The support for this view is similar across society, with one small outlier: Liberal Democrat supporters are slightly more likely (85%) to hold this view than Conservative (75%) or Labour (78%) voters.

Every eighth Briton (12%) agrees that democracy is a good system and functions very well. This grows to one in five (19%) among Conservative voters, which is double compared to Labour (9%) and higher than among Lib Dem supporters (7%).

On the other hand, just four percent think democracy doesn’t work and that there are better alternatives. A slightly larger minority of Labour voters (6%) share this view, compared to two percent of Conservative supporters and four percent of those backing the Lib Dems.

One in nine (11%) say they don’t know whether democracy is or is not a good system, rising to 16% among those aged 16 to 39. Women (15%) are also more likely than men (7%) to say they don’t know.

One of the key points of democracy is respect for and implementation of the opinions of the majority. The YouGov Democracy study has found that half of the British public (50%) think that majority opinion is usually right. However, 9% think that it is usually wrong.

Believing the majority to be usually wrong is slightly more prevelant among 16 to 24-year-olds (12%) and those between 25 and 39 (15%) than older generations (8% among those in their 40s and 50s and 6% among those 60 or older).

If we look at 2016 EU referendum votes we can see that 44% of those who voted Remain think that majority opinion is usually right, despite, in this case, it not matching their own view. Just 4% of those who voted Leave say the majority is usually wrong.

Every seventh Labour (15%) and Lib Dem (16%) voter thinks the majority is usually wrong, while just 4% of those who supported the Conservatives in 2019 agree with this.

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