Whose Democracy? A study of views from Norwich and the surrounding 'back-water' areas.

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Politics

Abstract

The Brexit vote brought to attention the existence of "two
Englands" (Jennings and Stoker 2016), where cultural values
separate 'populist-nationalists' from 'cosmopolitan-liberals'
(Flinders, 2018, Inglehart and Norris, 2016, Jennings et al.
2017). The former feel alienated by the political classes
whose liberal, cosmopolitan values stand in contrast with
their own traditional, authoritarian values (Goodwin and
Heath 2016, Inglehart and Norris 2016). A lack of faith in
ability of the political system to represent their concerns has
resulted in a backlash towards parliamentary sovereignty,
and demands to restore the 'ordinary man' as the principal
decision maker (Bovens and Willie 2010) - a sentiment
echoed in the 'take back control' rhetoric of the 2016 Leave
campaign.
The Government recognises the need for democratic
processes to become citizen focused, to "give people back a
sense of control" through opportunities to "participate in the
decisions that affect their lives" (HM Government 2018:53).
However, we know very little about what "citizen-focused"
processes ought to look like in citizens' eyes. Understanding
what kind of democratic arrangements citizens want is
crucial to be able to counter feelings of frustration and repair
democratic institutions (Bengtsson 2012). Yet, the literature
on democratic preferences is criticized (Bengtsson 2012 &
Jennings et al. 2017) for exploring 'specific support' rather
than 'diffuse support' -defined, respectively, as feelings
towards existing or prevailing political arrangements and as
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notions of an ideal decision-making system (Easton 1975). In
other words, existing studies (e.g. Allen & Birch 2015, Coffe
& Michels 2014) tend to test the support for preconfectioned decision-making arrangements rather than
unveiling preferences not determined a priori.
The proposed study will provide a rich understanding of
diffuse support, answering the question "Which democratic
decision processes do citizens prefer?" Given the extent to
which the bifurcation into 'two-Englands' is reconfiguring our
society and research into political behaviour (Jennings and
Stoker 2016), and the need for further exploration into the
nuances of such bifurcation, the importance of
understanding the investigation of diffuse support will be
complemented with an enquiry into how preferences for
decision-making processes are associated with 'populistnationalists' vs 'cosmopolitan-liberal' values. The county of
Norfolk is chosen as a research site as it lends itself to this
aim particularly well, being home to numerous rural
'backwater' areas including Great Yarmouth (5th highest
Leave vote in the UK) and the more cosmopolitan city of
Norwich. In addition to this, Norfolk displays contrasting and
to some extent unexplained patterns of democratic
engagement. While in the 2017 'Post-Brexit' General Election
turnout increased in 96.7% constituencies in England and
Wales, in Great Yarmouth it decreased -and was in fact the
lowest in the South of England; throughout England the
turnout was higher in the Brexit vote than it was for general
elections, but the opposite was observed in North Norfolk.
The heterogeneity of such patterns likely reflects a plethora
of contrasting and hybrid perspectives on 'who should
decide' -which this research aims to unveil and analyse.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2322816 Studentship ES/P000703/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Sarah Tustin