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2012 Democratic Audit: British democracy in ‘terminal decline’. Get the data

Category : Business

Political inequality in the UK is ‘widening rapidly’ warns 2012 Democratic Audit report. Read on for the key statistics
More data journalism and data visualisations from the Guardian

The 2012 Democratic Audit, shared exclusively with the Guardian, warns that representative democracy in the UK is in “long term, terminal decline” and political inequality is “widening rapidly”.

The internationally acclaimed study analyses quantitative and qualitative data on subjects including levels of political participation, the public’s concerns regarding the political system and links between government and the corporate sector.

You can find Juliette Jowit’s story on the report here.

The graphic above summarises some of the key statistics contained in the report, including gender representation and UK election turnouts.

Women make up 40% of Scottish Parliament but only 22% of the House of Commons. Less than one in three members of English councils are women.

Turnout varies considerably with election type. In the last general election around two thirds of the electorate voted, and just over half of those eligible took part in the Scottish general election of 2011.

In the 2009 European Parliament elections just 35% of the electorate exercised their right to vote, while turnout for the 2012 Liverpool Mayoral election was just 31%.

Another section of the Audit explored perceptions of how democratic the UK is across a variety of measures by comparison to the highest standards observed internationally.

This chart shows how these views have changed from the mid 90s (purple) through the early 2000s (red) to the present day (green). The distance from a line’s point to the centre of the ‘target’ represents how far people consider the UK to be from the highest observed standard.

While perceptions have improved for categories such as ‘the UK’s democratic influence abroad’ and the ‘democratic effectiveness of parliament’, they have fallen for key areas including ‘civil and political rights’ and the ‘democratic role of political parties’.

The table above shows comparisons between the UK and Nordic countries for selected democratic statistics. The UK performs worse in every measure shown, including average turnout at general elections (60% to 79%) and the proportion of MPs who are women (22% to 41%).

The line chart above shows UK perceptions of the conduct of individuals in public office.

Between 2004 and 2010 there was a clear decline in the proportion of the public who rated standards of conduct as either ‘quite high’ or ‘very high’. The percentage who viewed standards as either ‘quite low’ or ‘very low’ more than doubled over the same period.

The column chart above shows political participation broken down by social class (groupings from the British National Readership Survey, with ‘A’ denoting ‘high managerial, administrative or professional’).

In terms of signing petitions, discussing politics with others and contacting elected representatives the level of engagement falls with each social class-grouping from A to DE. The only exception is for attending political meetings, where participation is higher for the DE group (5%) than C2 (4%).

This second column chart illustrates relationships between government and the corporate sector, comparing levels of connectedness in the UK with other country-groupings whose political systems are similar to Britain’s.

Almost half of the UK’s top 50 firms are connected to a minister or MP, dwarfing the corresponding figures for the EU-15 group (7.1%), ‘consensual democracies’ (3.4%), ‘Westminster democracies’ (10.4%) and ‘Nordics’ (2.5%).

The statistics for politically connected firms as a percentage of total market value follow the same pattern.

The chart above shows membership numbers for the UK’s three main political parties from 2000 to 2010 (figures shown are in thousands). While membership of the Liberal Democrats has fluctuated slightly around 60,000, the Conservatives have seen a general decline in membership while Labour – after a steady decrease until 2009 – gained more than 25,000 in 2010 to draw level with the Tories.

The Audit also found specific areas where the public expressed concern with the democratic system, some of which are listed in the table below. Individual issues were split into three groupings; ‘areas of improvement’, ‘continuing concerns’ and ‘new and emerging concerns’.

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