How popular is power-sharing?

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 30th March 2015

Yesterday the views of Brits were unveiled to the world. And in some ways, they make for some startling reading.

The British Social Attitudes Survey – a renowned national study of voters’ opinions – was released on Thursday. It covers all sorts of issues on what citizens think. But a few things stood out for us.

Firstly, just 17% say they trust governments “just about always” or “most of the time”. This lack of faith in our democracy is pretty startling.

It’s not that people are apathetic – 32% express “quite a lot” or “a great deal of interest” in politics, actually an increase on the same survey in the ‘80s, while nearly two-thirds (65%) follow political news on a daily basis. But they don’t feel like Parliament currently responds to their political views: “only 16% believe that, if they made an effort to do something about an unjust law, parliament would give serious attention to their demands.” It’s a sorry indictment of our democratic institutions.

So it’s no wonder then that in a time of continuing distrust of politicians, and given the litany of scandals we’ve seen over the past few years, support for coalition government has taken a hit. Just 29% of voters say they prefer coalition to single-party government. Yet that is with the experience of only one coalition arrangement (and one that took place under a very unrepresentative electoral system).

When you dig deeper into public attitudes, you find that people actually want to see parties working together. Our new report Working Together, released this week, shows that even where the old two-party battle is fiercest (ie. in the 40 closest Tory-Labour marginals), 78% believe the Opposition should work with the government on issues they agree on (against just 9% who support the opposite) while 54% believe Parliament works best when no party is too dominant so that cross-party agreement is needed to pass laws (against just 28% who support the opposite).

In other words, coalition and minority government isn’t necessarily as unpopular as the British Social Attitudes Survey suggests.

Perhaps one of the responses to people’s alienation from politics, so startlingly demonstrated by this survey, is to embrace the fact that people want to see multiple parties at the top table of politics. After all, with six or seven parties commanding a decent chunk of the vote this year, people are voting with their feet. Our electoral system may still be stuck in the two-party past, but people have moved on. And as they do so, the idea of parties sharing power will become increasingly normal.

Shouldn’t we embrace the future, and accept that it’s time for parties to work together?

This week we launched our new report, Working Together, highlighting the benefits of parties sharing power.

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