Building the foundations of a healthier democracy in Wales  

A new Wales Centre for Public Policy report recommends ways to improve the measurement of democratic health in Wales.

The research, commissioned by the Counsel General, goes beyond examining levels of electoral registration and turnout. It sets out to answer three questions to support efforts to expand participation in the democratic process, especially among under-represented groups:

  • What could a healthy democracy look like in Wales?
  • How can data best be collected and reported to measure Wales’ democratic health?
  • How can Wales’ democratic health best be monitored?

The review defines six criteria which should be embedded in national and local political systems to achieve a healthy democracy:

  • Widespread citizen engagement and participation
  • Fair elections, and strong civil rights
  • Reasoned and constructive political deliberation
  • Political, social, and economic equality
  • Responsive governance
  • Open access to accurate information

The work, produced in partnership with experts at Southampton University, and reviewed by a roundtable of experts, comes at a time of general decline in trust in government in many of the world’s oldest democracies and a rise in populism. For many, the healthy scepticism that keeps government in check has boiled over into disaffection with the democratic process itself.

It analyses international measurements of democratic health, cites successes and failures of devolved governments and suggests ways Wales could improve its measurement processes given that it currently features in none of the international projects providing indicators of democratic health. One recommendation includes the potential to create a bespoke Welsh Democratic Observatory which would place Welsh citizens at the heart of the assessment process.

Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, said:

“I welcome this report, which will help us measure the progress of the work we are doing to improve democratic health in Wales.

“We have already achieved much including extending the vote to young people from 16 years of age and qualifying foreign citizens in Wales, announcing a clear framework for electoral reform and introducing a bill to modernise elections. This report is another step to build engagement in our democracy.”

WCPP Director of Research Professor James Downe said, “The Welsh Government’s interest in understanding what a healthy democracy could look like in Wales and how to measure and monitor democratic health is refreshing, especially in context of ‘democratic backsliding’ around the world.

“This report provides a valuable starting point for Welsh Government to consider the next steps to building more robust measures to improve and assess democratic health in Wales. Any of the suggested approaches would provide a benchmark for understanding a healthy democracy and help Wales to work towards strengthening its democratic processes and reducing the ‘democratic deficit’.”