Many of today's most pressing democratic challenges are related to the quality of public debates, such as the partisan polarisation of news outlets, the proliferation of ‘fake news’ and the discrediting of media sources by politicians at the highest levels. At the same time, many of the most dramatic instances of democratic contestation are taking place in the public sphere, from the rise of social movements that have triggered worldwide processes of political change on issues like sexual harassment, LGBTQ rights and police brutality, to the spread of whistleblower and watchdog organisations.
Using data from Wave 6 of the European Social Survey, the article shows that citizens from 29 primarily European countries tend to see aspects of public debate as important for democracy as free and fair elections and the rule of law. Moreover, different groups tend to care more about specific practices and institutions associated with public debates.
Members of cultural and sexual minorities tend to care more about having political parties that introduce alternative perspectives into the political agenda; highly educated citizens tend to prioritize all aspects of public debate but especially care about having access to reliable information; while citizens who are dissatisfied with government performance emphasize the importance of parties and media organizations that publicly criticize the government.
The article thus advances an empirically grounded and citizen‐centred defence of the importance of public debate for democratic politics.
Learn more about the article on European Consortium for Political Research’s website
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