Citizens’ Participatory Competence

 

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

EUOECD
 
Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of public policies.
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Finland
Democracy requires that the public and its representatives have the means to hold government accountable. In this respect Finnish democracy is effective, though not perfect. Information on government policies and decisions is widely available online and many policy fields are debated at great length on television or in other media. Newspaper readership rates are still high in Finland. Nevertheless, while some issues are widely debated in the media and attract broad general attention, other less media-friendly or stimulating issues pass largely unnoticed. The public’s evaluative and participatory competencies constitute a weak spot. Survey results suggest that the level of political knowledge among young people, particularly those with a low level of education, is rather low. At the same time, evidence suggests that the degree of interest and participation varies significantly across policy issues and levels of authority. Results indicate, for instance, that young cohorts tend to be familiar with supranational politics, while women are familiar with matters close to people’s everyday lives. Recently, the extensive use and consumption of social media for the purposes of political and everyday communication has been said to enhance the public’s political knowledge while also endangering the production of independent and broad-based information.
Citations:
Elo, Kimmo ja Rapeli, Lauri. 2008. “Suomalaisten politiikkatietämys.” Helsinki: Oikeusministeriön julkaisuja 2008:6
Rapeli, Lauri. 2014. “Comparing Local, National and EU Knowledge: The Ignorant Public Reassessed.” Scandinavian Political Studies 37: 428-446.
Norway
The Norwegian public is generally attentive, and well-informed about government policies, measures and operations, and citizens tend to trust decision-makers. This is partly attributable to the country’s small size, but also to the population’s high level of education, the very high circulation of newspapers and the widespread access to internet and television. Moreover, the Scandinavian tradition of transparency in government helps the free press to report accurately about public policies. However, in Norway, as in many other countries, the pace and complexity of policymaking is increasing, while media habits are rapidly changing and the various media platforms attract different readers and consumers. Although media pluralism is growing, the informational basis for a shared and common understanding of events and developments is weakening.
Sweden
The Swedish population has a strong interest in politics. Election turnout is still very high by most international comparisons. The turnout in the 2014 general elections was 85.8%, which was an increase of 1.2 percentage points from the previous election. In 2018, the turnout increased even further to 87.2%, which is remarkably high compared to other European countries. Swedish voters tend to decide very late for which party to vote, which may be interpreted as the voters’ desire to gather as much information on political parties as possible before they make their final decision.

The definition of high or low levels of political knowledge is obviously a relative measure. Official data on the knowledge level of Swedish voters is not available. It can, however, be assumed that voters here are not significantly more – or less – knowledgeable than their colleagues in comparable countries.

Recent studies suggest that if voters had been more knowledgeable on political issues this would have changed their party allegiance. Increasing levels of knowledge should reduce the support for the two major parties – the Moderates and the Social Democrats – while most of the other, smaller parties would have benefited. This is a purely hypothetical study, as the perfectly informed voter does not exist.
Citations:
Andersson, Ulrika, Anders Carlander, Elina Lindgren, Maria Oskarson (eds.) (2018), Sprickor i fasaden (Gothenburg: The SOM Institute).

Oscarsson, H. and S. Holmberg (2014), Svenska väljare (Stockholm: Wolters Kluwer).

Oscarsson, H. (2007), ”A Matter of Fact? Knowledge Effects on the Vote in Swedish General Elections, 1985-2002,” Scandinavian Political Studies 30:301-322.

http://www.val.se
 
Many citizens are well-informed of individual public policies.
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Denmark
Citizens get most of their information on government policy developments through television, radio, newspapers, news websites and social media. Government documents are, as a rule, freely accessible via the internet, and published work is also often free. Documents can further be read in public libraries, easily accessible across the country. Mail from the public is nearly exclusively going to Digital Post mailboxes. These are now mandatory for businesses and for citizens (with a few exceptions for the latter). Already most public services require online applications using a so-called easy ID (NemID). There is ongoing discussions about whether the information provided is comprehensible to most citizens, given the technicalities and complexities involved.

Election campaigns serve the purpose of presenting and debating the policies of the government as well as the opposition. A very high turnout during national elections (84.5% in the 2019 election) suggests a high degree of interest and enough knowledge to consider voting important. In the EU context, Danes are considered among the most knowledgeable about EU issues (partly due to the use of referendums), but turnout at elections for the European Parliament are much lower than for national ones (66.08% in 2019). European Parliament elections tend to be perceived as second order elections. The issues most important for voters, including healthcare, social services, pensions and education, are largely national issues.
Citations:
Lise Togeby et al., Power and Democracy in Denmark. Conclusions. Århus: Magtudredningen, 2003.

“Voter turnout data for Denmark,” http://www.idea.int/vt/countryview.cfm?CountryCode=DK (accessed 8 October 2015)

“Denmark mandates digital postboxes,” http://www.itnews.com.au/News/365479,denmark-mandates-digital-postboxes.aspx (accessed 22 October 2014).
Estonia
Extensive media consumption and high internet penetration suggest that citizens may be well informed on major policy topics. Besides news media, the websites of ministries and executive state agencies inform citizens about forthcoming policy changes (e.g., the forthcoming reform of second-pillar pension funds). At the same time, extensive use of social media by political parties and radical social movements likely increases the dissemination of fake news. The recent discussions on foreign and domestic policy issues indicate that information is often trivialized and manipulated for party political purposes. A few recent surveys have suggested that a significant proportion of citizens do not have an opinion or act ad hoc. For example, 41% of respondents in a representative opinion poll (Turu-Uuringute AS 2019) stated that they planned to withdraw their money from pension funds when allowed after the forthcoming pension reform, despite 77% of respondents stating that they would have no idea what to do with the money.
Citations:
Malmstein, K. (2019). Attitudes of Estonian population toward vaccination. A high school student research paper. Tallinn Pääsküla High school.
Iceland
Iceland’s citizens are generally well informed about government policy. In local surveys, most citizens demonstrate familiarity with public policies, especially with respect to policies that either interest them or directly affect them. This is truer of domestic policies than of international politics, because the complexity of Iceland’s political landscape is comparatively low. By international standards, it is relatively easy to develop a comprehensive overview of the politics, parties, and policy issues in Iceland. Extensive interpersonal networks between citizens and Iceland’s distance from other countries contribute to the domestic preoccupation of Icelandic politics.

The immediate response of some voters to the 2008 economic collapse demonstrates an ability on the part of some to quickly adapt to changed circumstances. In voter surveys connected to the 2007 and 2009 parliamentary elections, the percentage of voters agreeing with the statement that Iceland was mainly governed in accordance with the popular will, declined from 64% in 2007 to 31% in 2009. Furthermore, the four traditional national parties lost a substantial number of votes in the 2010 local government elections, following a dramatic decline in public trust in politicians and political institutions. In two of the biggest municipalities, Reykjavík and Akureyri, non-traditional parties were elected to power. This trend was accentuated by the publication of the scathing Special Investigation Committee report six weeks before the elections. Even so, in the 2013 parliamentary elections, the Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn) made the largest proportionate gains, increasing its vote share from 14.8% to 24.4%. This increase was due to the party’s election pledge to write off up to 20% of homeowners’ mortgage debts at foreign expense. In the same election, the previous governing coalition lost more than half of their combined seats. The cabinet that came to power in 2013 was led by the Progressive Party.

Public debate surrounding two national referendums, in 2009 and 2011, concerning the so-called Icesave dispute, suggests strong public interest in the issue. Similarly, the 2012 national referendum on a new constitution secured a turnout of 49% of the electorate, despite the negative attitude of some of Iceland’s traditional political parties. Declining levels of public trust in politicians and the associated increase in political apathy coincide with a noticeable deterioration in how well-informed citizens are about national and international affairs. At 79%, voter turnout in the parliamentary election of 2016 was the lowest recorded since the beginning of the 20th century. Turnout among people aged 18 to 25 years old is especially low, as is the case in many Western democracies. Most current electoral research indicates that a significant proportion of young people do not vote due to a lack of interest.
Citations:
Önnudóttir, E.H., and Hardarson, Ó. Th. (2009), “Óánægðir lýðræðissinnar: Afstaða Íslendinga til lýðræðis,” (Dissatisfied democrats: The Icelanders’ attitudes toward democracy), in Gudmundsson, H.S., and Ómarsdóttir, S. B. (2009), Rannsóknir í félagsvísindum X. Reykjavík, Háskólaútgáfan.

Eythórsson, G., and Kowalczyk, M. (2013), “Explaining the low voter turnout in Iceland’s 2010 local government elections,” Samtíð. An Icelandic journal of society and culture, Vol. 1.

Eythórsson, G. T., Önnudóttir, E. H., Hardarson, Ó. T., Valgardsson, V. O., Jónsdóttir, G. A., Björnsdóttir, A. E., and Birgisson, H. E. (2014), “Sveitarstjórnarkosningarnar 2014: Hverjar eru ástæður dræmrar kjörsóknar?” (What are the main reasons for the low voter turnout in the Local Government elections in 2014?).

Eythórsson, G. T., and Önnudóttir, E. H. (2017), “Abstainers reasoning for not voting in the Icelandic Local Government Election 2014,” Íslenska þjóðfélagið, Vol. 8, No. 1. http://thjodfelagid.is/index.php/Th/article/view/86. Accessed 22 December 2018.
Ireland
In the 2016 general election, electoral turnout dropped to 65.2% from 70.1% in 2011. This fall in turnout came after economic recovery and strong rates of economic growth. In 2020, turnout declined again to 62.9% (down 2.2%) despite the election being held on a Saturday for the first time since 1918.

The proportion of Irish respondents claiming to have heard of various European institutions is consistently higher than the EU average. The level of personal familiarity with elected politicians is very high – it has been claimed that a majority of the electorate have actually been canvassed by at least one person seeking election to the national parliament. In addition, the quality of debate on policy issues is high.
Israel
Compared to other countries, Israeli citizens show high levels of interest in politics. In the Israeli Democracy Index 2018 and international comparative indices, Israeli citizens were found to participate widely and be highly interested in politics. Israel also has one of the region’s highest internet-penetration rates (according one source, reaching 82% as of January 2019); a lively, pluralistic and independent news media market; and a politically heterogeneous and active civil society.

That being said, the Israeli public appears to be, to put mildly, “unimpressed” by the government’s capabilities and its levels of transparency. According to two surveys conducted for the Eli Hurvitz Conventions in 2016 and 2018, the public views the functioning of government and its policies, and aspects of transparency and the government’s contact (or connectiveness) with citizens rather critically, ranking these criteria as mostly mediocre at best. According to the Israeli Democracy Index, Israel’s Knesset rarely receives a favorable grade for its overall functioning.

But one should not reach conclusions from this too hastily; while the government has made a significant effort to increase its overall transparency (and suffers many shortcomings in this field; see section 9.2), citizens usually rely on the media rather than official (government) information channels for information about public policies. Indeed, according to several surveys published in January 2019 prior to the first round of elections in April 2019, over 50% of all respondents use traditional news media outlets to access political information, while about 20% of all respondents use social media.

Israeli citizens can potentially be informed about public policy from a wide range of sources, with the specific source dependent largely on an individual’s personal interests (how interested is he to learn and know about public policy) and personal involvement (does the policy affect him and to what extent, or alternatively how politically active is he and to what extent does his political activism target public policy).
Citations:
Arlozorov, Meirav. “For the First Time: The Grade the Government Gave Itself in Achieving Goals.” The Marker website. https://www.themarker.com/news/politics/1.4002747. April 6th, 2017 (Hebrew)

Arlozorov, Meirav. “The Professionalist Revolution of the Government of Israel.” The Marker website. https://www.themarker.com/allnews/1.5846420. February 25th, 2018 (Hebrew)

Data Israel Survey Database of the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research. Source for data of the surveys for the Eli Hurvitz Conventions. https://dataisrael.idi.org.il/

Digital 2019: Israel. A slideshow about Israel’s state of telecommunications, by We Are Social and Hootsuite, thinktanks. Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/DataReportal/digital-2019-israel-january-2019-v01

“Freedom of the Press: Israel 2017,” Freedom House, 2017 https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2017/israel

Hermann, Tamar et.al., The Israeli Democracy Index 2016, The Israel Democracy Institute, Jerusalem 2016. https://en.idi.org.il/media/7811/democracy-index-2016-eng.pdf

Israel. The State Comptroller. “The Government’s Transparency – Actions to Promote the Open Government,” Annual Report, 68(3), 2018, Jerusalem, vol. 1, pp. 5-71. (also available here: http://www.mevaker.gov.il/he/Reports/Report_627/6dd1ae66-0117-438b-bef5-241d493c6f01/101-shkifut.pdf) (Hebrew)

“Joining the Open Government Partnership and the nomination of the ‘Open Government Israeli Forum,’” Prime Minister Office website 2012 (Hebrew)

“The Government approved today the publication of all governmental databases” http://www.themarker.com/news/politics/1.3053541 (Hebrew)

“The Knesset Presents: Advanced Committee Web Portals Now Available,” http://www.ch10.co.il/news/110674/#.V8R-rvl9670 (Hebrew)

“The Special Committee for the Transparency and Accessibility of Government Information,” The Knesset Website (Hebrew): http://main.knesset.gov.il/Activity/Committees/GovInfo/Pages/default.aspx

The State Comptroller’s official website in English. Numerous reports are in English and Arabic. http://www.mevaker.gov.il/En/Pages/default.aspx

The World Bank internet Users Data http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.NET.USER.P2

“Yearly Report on the Implementation of the Law of Freedom of Information 2014” Ministry of Justice website – The Governmental Unit for Freedom of Information (Hebrew): http://index.justice.gov.il/Units/YechidatChofeshHameyda/Report2014/index.html

Herman, Tamar and Ella Heller, Tzipy Laza-Shoef, Fadi Omar, “The Israeli Democracy Index 2017. Summary,” 2017, https://en.idi.org.il/media/9837/israeli-democracy-index-2017-en-summary.pdf

Herman, Tamar and Ella Heller, Tzipy Laza-Shoef, Fadi Omar. The Israeli Democracy Index 2018. Israel: The Israel Democracy Institute, 2018. Retrieved from https://en.idi.org.il/publications/25031 (for the Hebrew version: https://www.idi.org.il/books/25008)

Tamar Hermann, “Democracy in Crisis? Israeli Survey Respondents Agree to Disagree,” 13.12.2018, Podcast: https://en.idi.org.il/podcasts/25310

“Work Book for the Year of 2018.” Containing links to all work books since 2011 and goals achievement reports since 2017 (reviewing 2016). http://plans.gov.il/Plan2012/Pages/newWorkPlan2012.aspx

Transparency International: “Corruption Perceptions Index 2018,”: http://www.ti-israel.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/CPI-2018-Executive-summary-PRINT.pdf
Luxembourg
In 2018 and 2019, Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Education initiated various measures (e.g., the Ministry of Environment’s Zero Waste program) intended to enhance the participation of the population. In addition, a new opportunity for parental participation was created. All parents were actively invited to become involved in a parent council, and elections for the parent council were prepared. Opportunities for public participation in spatial planning, agriculture policy, and culture and heritage protection were also expanded. The CSV, as opposition party, also sought to enhance public participation by touring the country and asking the population about problems

However, knowledge of Luxembourgish has an important role in political participation, as most political debates and information distribution takes place in this specific national language. This may make it more difficult for non-speakers to participate in the political sphere.
Citations:
Fehlen, Fernand (2016): Sprachenpolitik in der Großregion SaarLorLux, in: Wolfgang H. Lorig/Sascha Regolot/Stefan Henn (eds.): Die Grossregion SaarLorLux: Anspruch, Wirklichkeiten, Perspektiven, Springer VS Verlag, pp. 73 – 94.
Switzerland
There is some debate as to whether citizens are well informed in Switzerland. One of the first studies on the issue, based on surveys conducted after popular votes, found that only one out of six voters had a high level of policy knowledge. Studies based on larger data sets and relating to more recent data have showed that about 50% of citizens have good knowledge on public policy issues (i.e., they know the issue at hand and can provide reasons for their decisions). A recent study concluded that roughly equal shares of the citizenry lack civic competences, have medium competence and have a high level of competence. In cases where the public feels insufficiently informed, it votes against change. The power of a “no” heuristics was demonstrated by the 2017 vote one tax reform in which three-quarters of respondents said they had difficulties understanding the proposal (which was of eminent importance to the economy) and a third of those who voted “no” cited their lack of knowledge as a reason for voting against the proposal. The intensity of a campaign is another key factor in the extent to which the public is informed of a bill’s content and in explaining their voting behavior on the relevant issue.

Another recent study found that just 42% of Swiss citizens knew how many parties were in the government (which at the time of the survey had not changed during the previous five decades). Moreover, 36% knew how many signatures were needed to trigger a referendum, and about 45% knew the number of European Union member states. A survey in 2017 showed that 35% of all respondents were able to choose the correct answer about the goal-setting institution of the EU from a list of four possible answers.

In a 2007 comparative study titled “Citizenship and Involvement in Europe,” Swiss citizens scored at the same level as their counterparts in the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway with regard to the importance attributed to politics and interest in politics in general. These four countries demonstrated the highest scores among the 11 countries under study. In another recent study on political interest and sophistication, Switzerland ranked in sixth place (behind Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Germany) among the 21 European countries examined in the European Social Survey. An analysis by Kriesi in 2005 showed that citizens are relatively well informed and rational when making decisions in direct-democratic votes. Either they consider arguments and counterarguments or rely on reasonable heuristics. One of these heuristics is the “no” heuristic (i.e., when the public are in doubt they tend to vote against the respective proposal). Stucki et al. (2018) show that voters are willing and able to actively seek information in making their decision. Thus, in general it seems fair to say that Swiss citizens are as well informed about policies as citizens in other mature and wealthy democracies.

There are, however, limitations to this cue-taking as an effective means of political decision-making. For example, since 2014 a large share of citizens believes claims by right-wing populist politicians that the EU is so invested in Switzerland, that it must renegotiate the bilateral agreements to allow for the constitutional amendment limiting immigration. Based on this argument, a majority of citizens supported the new constitutional amendment. From the very beginning, however, the EU made clear that it would not enter negotiations over the free movement of labor. Notwithstanding these clear messages, in 2017 56% of Swiss citizens thought that the Swiss government could have gotten a better deal in negotiations with the EU. Hence, limited political knowledge on the part of citizens (common to all democracies) and ideological contentions by political elites (trusted as reliable cues by knowledge-poor citizens) may lead to political dead ends in a direct democracy.

With regard to subjective knowledge, about 28% of Swiss citizens claim to be very or quite interested in politics, as well as being at least quite able to take an active political role in a political party and to be at least quite confident in their own ability to participate in politics. This percentage is similar to that found in neighboring Germany (31%) and Austria (27%), but clearly more than that seen in France (16%) or Italy (16%) (European Social Survey 2018).
Citations:
Hanspeter Kriesi, 2005a: Argument-Based Strategies in Direct-Democratic Votes: The Swiss Experience, Acta Politica 40: 299-316.

Hanspeter Kriesi, 2005b: Direct-Democratic Choice. The Swiss Experience. Lanham: Rowmann & Littlefield.

VOTO 2017: VOTO-Studie zur eidgenössischen Volksabstimmung vom 12. Februar 2017, Lausanne, Aarau, Luzern: FORS et al.

Klaus Armingeon and Philipp Lutz 2018: Voting against all odds, Bern: University of Bern, unpublished paper based on MOSAiCH survey 2017.

European Social Survey 2018, 9th wave, published November 2019

Stucki, I., Pleger, L., & Sager, F. (2018). “The making of the informed voter: A split-ballot survey on the use of scientific evidence in direct-democratic campaigns,” Swiss Political Science Review: 24(2): 115–139. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/spsr.12290
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Belgium
There are few sources of data that allow one to assess the citizenry’s level of information with precision. Furthermore, the web of overlapping competencies between different layers of government reduces accountability. However, it is quite clear that, over the last year, the population has become a lot more active in demanding specific policies from the different governments in Belgium.

To take three examples, the “gilets jaunes” movement in France also sparked controversies in French-speaking Belgium. This moment encouraged sections of the population that felt disenfranchised to engage in political debates and demand policies that favor them. Second, young people across the whole country started weekly demonstrations in favor of a significant acceleration of the government’s climate policies. In both cases, public demand for political news and participation in public debates with respect to these issues increased. Third, for the first time in Belgium’s history, the Federal Planning Bureau was tasked with calculating the budgetary figures of each party’s electoral promises. This has allowed the population to see which promises were realistic and which not. Coverage of these figures within the printed press was good and informative, although coverage on television was much less so.
Germany
Recent empirical analyses indicate a dramatic decline in public interest in politics and parliamentary debates in Germany. Younger cohorts in particular were unable to mention any parliamentary debate they had followed with interest. Media use is intense in the younger age groups, but has shifted away from information toward entertainment consumption, with the result that an increasing share of people is almost completely cut off from any information on politics. In addition, policy knowledge correlates strongly with family social status and the socioeconomic environment (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 2018). Recent studies make clear that populist sentiments within the citizenry have increased over the years, while at the same time indicating a decline in political knowledge and interest in political details (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2018). Schools have been unable to compensate for those deficiencies (Bundestag 2017). Nonetheless, comparative research indicates that policy knowledge in Germany remains at a level comparable to that in Scandinavian countries (Jensen and Zohlnhöfer 2020).
Citations:
Bundestag (2017): Politisches Bewusstsein von Kindern und Jugendlichen sowie ihre politische Beteiligung. Online: https://www.bundestag.de/blob/531098/1b8f7a13a4e384584fefcbcb07e6c28d/wd-9-035-17–pdf-data.pdf

https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/153820/umfrage/allgemeines-vertrauen-in-die-parteien/

Bertelsmann Stiftung (2018) Populismus-Studie
https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/fileadmin/files/BSt/Publikationen/GrauePublikationen/ZD__Studie_Populismusbarometer_2018.pdf

http://www.infratest-dimap.de/umfragen-analysen/bundesweit/umfragen/aktuell/ wenig-vertrauen-in-medienberichterstattung/

Carsten Jensen and Reimut Zohlnhöfer (2020): Policy knowledge among ‘elite citizens,’ European Policy Analysis (forthcoming).
Japan
A substantial amount of information about policies is available in Japan. For instance, ministries regularly use so-called white papers to explain the current parameters and content of policies in many areas, often in great detail.

However, this does not necessarily mean that citizens feel satisfied with the information available or consider it trustworthy. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, only 39% of the overall population in 2019 said they trusted the government.
Citations:
Edelman, 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer – Japan, https://de.slideshare.net/EdelmanJapan/2019-edelman-trust-barometer-japan
New Zealand
Many New Zealanders appear to appear to be relatively well informed about political issues. According to the 2017 New Zealand Election Study (NZES), 33% of respondents were “very interested” in politics, 49% “somewhat interested.” Roughly two-thirds of citizens make use of the news media to inform themselves about political issues. Asked how often they had followed election news on TVNZ 1, 65% of respondents replied either “often” or “sometimes.” The figure is similar for online sources, with 62% of respondents declaring that they had turned to the internet at least once to find information about the 2017 election. The figures for the 2017 NZES also reveal that political interest and knowledge had increased since 2014.

On issues that have public resonance, relevant select committees – on average – receive a large number of public submissions. For example, in the case of the Smoke-free Environment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Amendment Bill, the relevant committee received more than 15,600 submissions. The various policy working group meetings that have been undertaken since 2017 have been attended by large numbers of citizens around the country. For example, over 2,000 people attended meetings held by the Mental Health Inquiry team around the country (in 2018).
Citations:
New Zealand Election Study 2017 (http://www.nzes.org/exec/show/2017_NZES+Results)
South Korea
The candlelight revolution of 2016 – 2017 revealed a high level of political information and interest among the Korean public. In particular, it is remarkable that many young people and students participated in the protests. Nevertheless, many citizens remain poorly informed about the details of many government policies. Political discussions are often conducted emotionally, and are focused on personalities rather than policy. The spectrum of published political opinions remains very narrow, limiting the scope of political discussion and making it hard for citizens to develop their own opinion. The immense pressure to do well on exams in schools and at universities has left political education and discussions underdeveloped. The low level of trust in government announcements and in the mainstream media provides fertile ground for the dissemination of rumors. Misinformation spreads quickly in Korea, as was evident in the online campaigns against refugees from Yemen. The discussion about refugees also revealed that the public generally knows less about international topics or the international context than it does about purely domestic subjects. However, numerous NGOs and enlightened netizens, acting on behalf of citizens, are playing a pivotal role in monitoring the public and private sectors by getting and sharing information from the government.
Citations:
Korea Center for Freedom of Information and Transparent Society at http://www.opengirok.or.kr/
Share Hub. One out of every two Seoul citizens has heard of “Sharing City” policy – results of a survey of the public awareness of Sharing City Seoul policy. July 19, 2016
http://english.sharehub.kr/one-out-of-every-two-seoul-citizens-has-heard-of-sharing-city-policy-results-of-a-survey-of-the-public-awareness-of-sharing-city-seoul-policy/
Netherlands
Dutch citizens claim to spend slightly more time than the average European citizen on collecting political information. Nevertheless, the broader public does not seem to be well-informed on a wide range of government policies. This is due not to a lack of information, but many people find political information complicated and/or uninteresting, they often do not pay much attention to it. The Netherlands Institute for Social Research (Sociaal-Cultureel Planbureau, SCP) found in a 2012 survey that 28% of respondents thought politics was too complicated for them to understand, while 60% thought it was too complex for most others.
In addition to disinterest and an increasing knowledge gap between educational levels, increasing (foreign-led) efforts to disseminate disinformation and create “fake news” have had a deleterious effect on knowledge levels regarding political issues and decision-making. Moreover, studies conducted during the 2017 election showed that an increasing number of citizens from the younger cohorts have begun to avoid political news.

Research among voters in local elections shows that citizens hold the national government accountable for local policy. Moreover, they have more trust in local political institutions (mayor, aldermen, political parties) than in their national counterparts. Furthermore, people participate in local elections, but at much reduced rates in more participatory alternatives, while the public views the physical environment as the country’s most pressing policy issue.

In 2018 – 2019, the Our Money (Ons Geld) citizen initiative, which managed to put issues of money and (public) debt on the agenda, represented an exceptional case of active citizenship. One of its results was a WRR report recommending more diversity in the financial sector, an end to excessive debts, better preparation for the next financial crisis, and the establishment of a public bank for citizen savings. Another example of civic mobilization involved the 2018 mobilization of residents in areas plagued by airplane noise associated with Schiphol Airport, and the clear impact that activists and lobby groups had on the expansion plan for Schiphol Airport. Research by Bovens and Wille found that differences in education levels have become increasingly salient factors when it comes to citizens’ powers in processing policy information, political judgments about the European Union, issues of immigration and integration, and political leadership.

The SCP recently found that Dutch citizens split evenly over the issue of more or less direct influence by citizens. It is the less educated who demand more political influence, whereas higher educated citizens, especially those with tertiary qualifications, do not support the idea. A recent study into citizen attitudes to the European Union, undertaken by TNS/Kantar Nipo and commissioned by the Green Left party, found that Dutch citizens are caught in a dependence-cum-distrust situation: they instinctively distrust the European Union and would resist transferring more national powers to the EU level, but simultaneously believe that the European Union should have greater influence over most policy domains.

There have been a wide and broad range of initiatives across all levels of government in all kinds of citizen engagement projects, from interactive policymaking to citizen-budgets and citizen-juries, youth councils and local referendums, just to name a few. Public apathy in many participatory options and low levels of knowledge on policies co-exists with widespread discontent with politics and governance. A surge in street protests and large-scale demonstrations was evident in 2019. This was driven in part by the Dutch counterparts of the French “yellow vests,” students and other younger people united in Extinction Rebellion, and climate and animal activists. However, teachers, farmers and building-industry employees (and employers) all launched one or more mass demonstrations against government policies. Overall, it appears that citizen-initiated efforts to exert power outside and beyond government-sponsored participatory policy exercises are gaining in political salience.
Citations:
M. Bovens, and A. Wille, 2011. Diplomademocratie. Over spanningen tussen meritocratie en democratie, Bert Bakker

Stichting Kiezersonderzoek Nederland, 2016. Democratie dichterbij: Lokaal kiezersonderzoek 2016 (kennisopenbaarbestuur.nl)

NOS, Organisaties omwonenden van vliegvelden bundelen krachten, 16 May 2018

B. van den Braak,28 December 2018. Demonstreren toen en nu. (parlement.com, accessed 8 November 2019)

NRC Handelsblad, 17 October, 2019. Laat zien dat je met veel bent en verstoor de openbare orde.

WRR, 2019. Geld and schuld: de publieke rol van banken.

Jan Kleinnijenhuis, Anita M J van Hoof, Wouter van Atteveldt, The Combined Effects of Mass Media and Social Media on Political Perceptions and Preferences, Journal of Communication, Volume 69, Issue 6, December 2019, Pages 650–673, https://doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqz038

http://nieuwsmonitor.org/wp-content/uploads/onderzoeksrapport-MediaPolitiek.pdf
UK
The UK government provides considerable information to its citizens through detailed websites, both at the core executive and the ministerial level. This flow of information has been enhanced in recent years. These websites contain general information, progress reports and statistical data. As part of its online material, the government makes some effort to ensure that citizens use this information by targeting specific groups. For example, a digital voter registration toolkit was developed in conjunction with a single-parent charity, while the “Rock Enrol!@” pack was designed to engage young people. The most important source of knowledge for citizens is TV broadcasting, followed by newspapers and radio.

According to an opinion poll by Ipsos MORI in 2010, 53% of those asked said that they had “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of knowledge about politics, while 47% answered that they had “not very much” knowledge or knew “nothing at all.” The share of those claiming knowledge has risen over the previous decade by about ten percentage points, indicating a subjectively better understanding of politics by citizens in the United Kingdom. A telling figure is that the proportion of citizens voting in certain television talent competitions is higher than in many national elections. A more recent 2017 Ipsos MORI “peril of perception” poll found the United Kingdom to be at the higher end of knowledge of widely discussed issues, though behind the better-informed Nordic countries.
Citations:
Ipsos MORI 2011: Knowledge of Politics 2003-2010; http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2757/Knowledge-of-Politics-20032010.aspx?view=wide
https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/perils-perception-2017
6
Australia
Opinion surveys indicate Australians have a moderate level of understanding of government policies, and that their level of knowledge increases substantially during election campaigns when they pay greater attention to policy matters. Media coverage tends to be limited due to the lack of diversity in Australian media, which is potentially a factor hindering citizens’ policy knowledge. On the other hand, voting in elections of all levels of government is compulsory in Australia, which on balance is likely to increase the general level of awareness of government and opposition policies. Furthermore, media coverage of policy platforms during election campaigns is substantial. The robust and successful lobbying efforts of interest groups, including the business community, may have contributed to a weakening of confidence in the political system.

After a decade of frequent leadership changes and infighting over important policy issues (e.g., climate change), Australians appear to be disillusioned with politics. According to a September 2019 poll, only 15% of the population follows developments in Canberra with great interest.
Citations:
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/election-2016-voter-turnout-lowest-since-compulsory-voting-began-in-1925-20160808-gqnij2.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-07/why-do-we-have-compulsory-voting/7484390

https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/one-nation-immigrants-in-inner-west-and-south-west-shift-support-to-pauline-hansons-party/news-story/78152502617feb5659ac54ca6313dc97

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/04/the-big-tune-out-few-australians-follow-politics-closely-guardian-essential-poll-shows

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/oct/11/australia-is-in-trouble-majority-media-and-lobbying-destroy-trust-in-politics-garnaut-says
Canada
Most citizens have only a rudimentary knowledge of key public-policy issues. In the latest Canadian Elections Study (2015), less than 20% of respondents could correctly identify the name of the governor general or the finance minister. A 2013 study of 10 countries found that Canada is ahead of the United States but lags behind European countries in terms of political knowledge. The same study also found that Canadian women scored 30% lower on average than Canadian men when tested on their knowledge of hard-news items. Like other established democracies, Canada has issues with regard to young voters’ political literacy. A 2017 study by Stockemer and Rocher found that younger people are less politically literate than older people by a margin of 20 to 30 percentage points. The authors concluded that this generational political knowledge gap accounts for approximately half of the difference in turnout between voters in their early 20s and voters in their 50s.
Citations:
Curran, James et al. (2013) Gender Matters Globally: An Examination of Gaps in Political Knowledge in a 10-Nation Comparative Study.

Canadian Elections Study, 2015 edition, accessible at https://ces-eec.arts.ubc.ca/english-section/home/

Stockemer, Daniel and Francois Rocher. Age, political knowledge and electoral turnout: a case study of Canada
Commonwealth & Comparative Politics Vol. 55 (1), 2017.
Czechia
With the increasing accessibility of online information, information on government policies is increasingly available to all Czech citizens. The growing diversity of the media landscape, as well as the Pirate Party’s success in the 2017 elections, has increased pressure for transparency and enhanced citizens’ ability to come to informed decisions. However, media sources are themselves polarized between those presenting simplistic views and/or broad support for Prime Minister Babiš and those providing a more balanced approach or even demonstrating open opposition to Babiš. The political polarization reflected in the media landscape has deepened societal divisions. Furthermore, Babiš’s populist rhetoric tends to obfuscate the motives, effects and implications of policies. According to surveys, about 50% of the Czech population has a general interest in politics, a figure that has remained more or less stable over the last 10 years. However, citizens show distinctly more interest in domestic political affairs (58% of respondents) than in world political affairs (41%) or in the EU (38%).
France
Citizens’ interest in politics and their participation in the political process have been on the decline in recent decades. Obtaining their information primarily from television, most citizens are poorly informed. Television stations devote little time to any political topic and tend to prefer talk shows where people express their views, rather than using prime-time hours for political information. Information follows mobilization, rather than the other way around, evidenced by the protest movements against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Information is often provided on a certain topic once a group of citizens or political activists have succeeded in attracting media attention. Unfortunately, social networks tend to have substituted for traditional media in this information process. This contributes to the diffusion of unverified and fake news to such a point that, as in many other countries, the overall information issue becomes a problem for the proper functioning of democracy. There is also a strong bias in favor of petty news to the detriment of more complex informative pieces concerning, for example, healthcare policy or the fight against poverty.
One of the problems with government information is that politicians tend to hide the truth or minimize harsh realities. Ever since the Socialist government’s economic policy U-turn in 1983, governments have tried to hide necessary measures or reforms behind a veil of euphemistic language. This kind of action “by stealth” may initially be successful, but it does not enhance political awareness among citizens, and fuels populist feelings at both ends of the political spectrum. During his electoral campaign and in his first months in office, President Macron has introduced a new approach of “speaking truth to people.” In practice, this triggered harsh criticism, and was perceived by many as a manifestation of technocratic arrogance and indifference to the situation of the poor. In January 2019, in reaction to the Yellow Vest riots, Macron launched a vast operation organizing 10,000 local citizen debates paired with other (e.g., online) possibilities for citizens to express themselves (Grand débat national). Nearly 2 million citizens contributed to this debate. This pedagogic exercise seems to have worked, since the executive has been able to end the riots and recover a modicum of popular consensus. It remains to be seen whether this exercise might represent a way of transforming governmental methods and fostering greater citizen participation over the long term.
Italy
Existing public opinion studies indicate that only a minority of citizens (about 35%) are significantly interested in politics and that about a similar percentage talks regularly about politics and follows TV programs featuring political debate. A large majority (85%), however, regularly follows the TV news where political news has a significant weight. While data show that the level of sophistication and knowledge about parties, personnel and composition of government is not low, data concerning levels of information about policies were not easily available. They probably vary greatly depending on the policy field.

In certain areas used by parties to define their positions (especially major economic and fiscal issues, education, healthcare, and foreign policy), levels of information are fairly high. On other policies, the amount knowledge drops significantly. As Italian politics are fast-moving, unstable and strongly personalized, it is naturally difficult for citizens to be well informed about the contents of government policymaking. Television – by far the most significant information source in Italy – does not provide in-depth information.
Citations:
Vincenzo Memoli, How Does Political Knowledge Shape Support for Democracy? Some Research Based on the Italian Case, in Bulletin of Italian Politics, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2011, 79-102
Latvia
There is no local survey data specifically indicating the extent to which citizens are informed of government policymaking decisions. NGOs (which are predisposed to participation) are able to obtain the information and knowledge required to understand the motives, objectives, effects and implications of policy proposals; and make their opinions known through the existing system. However, that same information may not be made available to the general public.

According to USAID’s 2015 CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, the government has a positive attitude toward NGOs and NGOs provide significant input to the policymaking process. As of November 2019, there were 22,869 registered NGOs in Latvia. In 2015, NGOs participated in roughly 1,400 working groups. Latvia scored 2.6 and ranked 3 out of 29 countries in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia region, behind Estonia and Poland and equal to the Czech Republic. In 2016, this score dropped to 2.5, rising again to 2.6 in 2019.

A 2015 Democracy Audit, conducted by researchers at the University of Latvia, noted that overall civic activism in Latvia can be described as poor. The report found that citizens are passive, skeptical and slow to engage with the political process, and are increasingly alienated from democratic institutions and processes. According to a 2015 survey, 50% of respondents claim that they would be able to protect their rights and interests through government or municipal institutions, while 38% claimed they could not. However, 54% of respondents stated that they did not believe that they could influence politics through civic engagement. The most popular methods of participation are online commentary (16%); signing petitions (12%); contacting politicians or state officials (11%); boycotting products, services, or organizations (7%); and participating in an NGO (6%). In addition, 60% of respondents stated that referendums were a good method for deciding important political issues. The Enterprise Register estimates that just 25,000 individuals or 1.2% of the population are members of a political party. This is the lowest level of party membership in the European Union.

The rise of social media and the increasing use of the internet have placed new tools at the disposal of citizens wishing to participate in the political process. An e-petition tool, manabalss.lv, lets any group of 10,000 or more citizens place issues on the parliamentary agenda. The law has been positively affected by 67.5% of the submitted initiatives. In 2018, a total of 153 initiatives were submitted to the platform and 238,812 people signed the initiatives, up from 91,891 signatures in 2015. The parliament is increasingly responsive to these initiatives.

An initially successful social-media style website that enabled citizens to engage in direct communication with members of parliament was shut down in 2014 due to a lack of financing.
Citations:
1. Rozenvalds, J. (2015) How Democratic is Latvia? Audit of Democracy 2005-2014, Available at: https://www.szf.lu.lv/fileadmin/user_upload/szf_faili/Petnieciba/sppi/demokratija/ENG_Audit_of_Democracy_2015.pdf, Last assessed: 05.11.2019.

2. Baltic News Service (2011), Latvian Political Parties and Associations Estimated to have around 25 thousand Members, Article available at (in Latvian): http://www.delfi.lv/news/national/politics/latvija-partijas-un-politis kajas-apvienibas-varetu-but-apmeram -25-tukstosi-cilveku.d?id=39523183, Last assessed: 05.11.2019.

3. Latvian Civic Alliance (2019), Overview of the NGO Sector in Latvia 2015. Available at: https://nvo.lv/uploads/201911141454365728.pdf, Last assessed: 05.11.2019.

4. Research center SKDS, Survey on central government’s image, Available at (in Latvian): https://mk.gov.lv/sites/default/files/attachments/atskaite_petijuma_zinojums_vk_112016.pdf, Last assessed 05.11.2019.

6. ManaBalss (2018), Progress data, Available at: https://manabalss.lv/page/progress, Last assessed: 05.11.2019
Malta
A relatively large amount of policy information is made available to citizens, and this information is in general easily accessible. Several channels exist for this purpose. There is a Freedom of Information, but restrictions mean that information requested is not always available. The ministries received 402 requests from media organizations and members of the public between 2015 and 2017. Under the Freedom of Information Act, 54% of these were upheld in part or in full. Access to contracts between government and private investors remains problematic. The National Statistics Office and the Department of Information regularly make information available to citizens, as do the Ombudsman and the National Audit Office. Some of the more complete reports assessing government policy however come from the European Commission. Competition between media outlets has improved public access to information with leading media outlets hosting their own investigative television series. The June 2019 Eurobarometer Survey found that the public’s levels of trust in the media were very low, at 24%, but there was also an above-average level of trust in Maltese political institutions, including parliament, the police and the army. This former weakness can be partially attributed to misinformation or a lack of information on key policy areas; the Central Link Project, a controversial road-upgrade project, is one such example. A better informational campaign on the impact of these new roads on the ecosystem was warranted. A 2019 EU Commission paper indicates that percentage of individuals using the internet to interact with government authorities is below the EU average; however, the share of those using it to obtain information is close to the EU average,
Citations:
Maltese more likely to trust government than the media study shows, Times of Malta 02/06/17
Standard Eurobarometre 86 Autumn 2016 Media use in the European Union
Standard Eurobarometre 88 Autumn 2017 Media use in the European Union
Over 400 freedom of information requests in three years. Times of Malta 30/11/17
https://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2019-02-20/local-news/Maltese-people-trust-political-parties-more-than-the-written-press-Eurobarometer-survey-6736203951
Times of Malta 04/09/2019 Central link trees to remain for a little while longer
European Commission Digital Government Fact sheet 2019 Malta
European Commission Standard Eurobarometer 91 June 2019
Mexico
Socioeconomically, Mexico is a very internally divided country, which translates into uneven policy knowledge across the population. Due in part to its poverty levels, Mexico has the lowest performing students in the OECD and up to a third of the population has little more than primary education. However, at the other end of the scale, literally millions of Mexicans attend universities, and hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have attended foreign universities. There is, therefore, a marked split between a highly educated Mexico, which is concerned with the finer details of politics and policy, and a less politically and intellectually sophisticated Mexico composed of people who are mostly trying to get by. While better educated Mexicans are well-informed, poor and less educated citizens lack knowledge and interest in politics.

In the latest survey by the National Bureau of Statistics (INEGI), 44.5% of respondents said that they were content with the quality of government services in 2017. In the latest National Survey on Political Culture (2012), 65% of respondents stated that they had little to no interest in politics, and 77% thought that government was an instrument of manipulation that benefits only politicians and wealthy people. More recent data is offered by the AmericasBarometer (2016/17): In Mexico, support for democracy fell from 70.2% in 2004 to 49.4% in 2017, while only 26.2% of Mexicans trusted the elections and only 13.8% of Mexicans trusted political parties. President Peña Nieto and his government left office with historically low approval ratings. The new president, López Obrador, enjoys a high level of popular support. In November 2019, 67% of Mexicans approved of President López Obrador. His approval ratings have exceeded 59% throughout his term so far. However, approval of democracy is low, consistently polling at 38% (Latinobarometro).
Citations:
INEGI (2018). ENCUESTA NACIONAL DE CALIDAD E IMPACTO GUBERNAMENTAL (ENCIG) 2017. http://www.beta.inegi.org.mx/contenidos/saladeprensa/boletines/2018/EstSegPub/encig2018_03.pdf
ENCUP (2012). National Survey on Political Culture. http://www.encup.gob.mx/
AmericasBarometer (2018). THE POLITICAL CULTURE OF DEMOCRACY IN MEXICO AND IN THE AMERICAS, 2016/17. https://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/mexico/AB2016-17_Mexico_Country_Report_English_V1_05.15.18_W_10.25.18.pdf.
INFORME LATINOBARÓMETRO 2018, http://www.latinobarometro.org/lat.jsp
Slovakia
Given the liberal legislation on access to public information and the existing media pluralism, information about policymaking is available to all citizens. However, population’s overall policy knowledge has suffered from the Fico government’s paternalistic approach. Fico’s main message to the citizens was that the government takes care of people’s everyday worries as well as the national interests of Slovakia, so that there is no need for citizens to engage in politics and to deal with policymaking. Social media have also had a negative impact on citizens’ understanding of public policies, as they contribute to the spread of different “alternative” news and conspiracy theories promoted by low-quality media such as Hlavné správy and Zem a Vek. In the wake of the Kuciak and Kušnírová murders, however, the political interest among broad strata of the population has increased, and this has contributed to a growing interest in policymaking as well. In a recent Eurobarometer survey, 72% of respondents stated that they were highly or moderately interested in politics. Like in other European countries, popular interest in climate change has risen.
Citations:
European Commission (2019): Standard Eurobarometer 91. Brussels (https://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/Survey/index#p=1&instruments=STANDARD).
Spain
Although levels of interest in politics have traditionally been low in Spain as compared with other Western European countries, the crisis and the deep changes in the political landscape have somewhat changed Spaniards’ attitudes toward the policy process. The public now demands more information, and the motives behind and implications of government policy decisions are now better explained in the media than was the case in the old two-party system. Research conducted by CIS, a public sociological research center, demonstrates that attentiveness to political information within Spain has improved.
While levels of political knowledge in Spain are generally low, there are also important socioeconomic and gender differences in levels of knowledge. Knowledge is higher among those with higher levels of education, greater socioeconomic and cognitive resources, and, in particular, among men.

Due to Spain’s political deadlock, Spaniards are increasingly concerned. According to a CIS survey conducted in September 2019, 45.3% of those surveyed believed that politicians are among the country’s three main problems. In addition, almost 77% of respondents believed that the political situation in Spain is “bad” or “very bad” and the majority (60%) was pessimistic about the future.
Citations:
Monica Ferrín, Marta Fraile & Gema M. García-Albacete (2019) Adult roles and the gender gap in political knowledge: a comparative study, West European Politics, 42:7, 1368-1389, DOI: 10.1080/01402382.2019.1577069

DOI: 10.5477/cis/reis.147.53
CIS Survey, September 2019
http://www.cis.es/cis/opencm/ES/1_encuestas/estudios/ver.jsp?estudio=14469
 
Few citizens are well-informed of public policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of public policies.
5
Austria
A minority of Austrian citizens are well informed, but the majority is informed only within rather narrow limits. On the one hand, this is because political parties (and the government) do not provide full information on decision-makers’ debates and strategic thinking. On the other, it is due to the characteristics of the Austrian print media, with the yellow press (and its often very strong bias) dominating large parts of the print-media market. However, a majority of Austrians show limited interest in politics, a characteristic perhaps reinforced by the comparatively minimal opportunity for direct participation within the political system.

Social media is reinforcing the existing tendency toward fragmentation. Information and communication “bubbles” exist where politically aligned citizens strengthen the opinions of other similarly aligned citizens. In particular, this has been used by politicians (e.g., by Heinz-Christian Strache, FPÖ chairman until 2019) who interpret the number of “likes” on social media platforms (e.g., Facebook) as an indicator of political success.

One thread of political discourse in Austria has focused on increasing citizens’ direct role within decision-making processes, a discussion that helped lead to the popular referendum in 2013 over the future of the military draft. In this, a majority opted for keeping the draft system rather than creating a professional army. In spite of the non-binding character of this consultation, all political parties agreed that the result should be respected. The public discourse generally favors more direct-democratic participation. And some particularly sensitive topics, such as the possibility of Turkey’s EU membership, lead to promises by most or all political parties to have binding popular consultations before government and parliament determine Austria’s final position.

The ÖVP-FPÖ government (2017 – 2019) promised to lower the threshold for securing a plebiscite. However, in practice, the government has shown no interest in fulfilling this promise, as it does not want to be blocked by citizen initiatives. This may have an important impact on decision-making, but it will not change the reality of public knowledge in Austria. Interest in politics is not equally distributed among citizens.

A specific Austrian problem is that there is no general civic education curriculum in the Austrian school system – and this deficit has an impact on the general level of political knowledge.
Bulgaria
The distribution of knowledge about government policies in Bulgaria is highly uneven. Citizens who are active, especially through participation in non-governmental organizations or grassroots activities, seem to have a very strong grasp of current policies in their sphere of interest. Businesses are also well informed of government policies concerning their field of operation. The general public, however, seems distrustful and uninterested. Citizens’ knowledge of how the government is actually organized and works, the division of competencies and the way decision-making and implementation proceeds is also not high.
Chile
Print-media discussion of policy-reform proposals and government programs is relatively widespread, including discussion of reform proposals and options presented by the ad hoc policy-reform commissions. This has been recently displayed following the proposal of education, pension, fiscal and labor reforms. New forms of public communication regarding government policymaking, in many cases through websites and social networks, are on the rise. Yet a large share of the population is excluded from such discussion due to low levels of education, limited understanding of in-depth analysis and/or its lack of exposure to media other than television. For instance, a study conducted by the National Cultural Council in 2011 (Consejo de la Cultura) indicated that 84% of Chileans of all ages did not have an adequate understanding of content they had read. This observation was confirmed by a 2015 PISA study on the reading comprehension of adolescents. Furthermore, Chile’s oligopolistic media structures distort the political options offered to citizens (e.g., policymaking regarding ethnic minorities and the associated conflicts).

Disinformation and manipulations hinder public-policy discussions. In addition to these deficits in news coverage, citizens in general show low interest in policymaking. Policy interest within the socioeconomic elite is also generally fairly limited, at least as long as public policies do not substantially affect their lifestyle in a nearly completely privatized environment (discussions of fiscal redistribution, as took place during the 2014 fiscal reform, represent a notable exception). Those elements of the middle class that are interested in these debates tend to have access only to the low-quality information sources mentioned above, while members of the socioeconomically lower-class population often know only about the specific public-subsidy systems they use, and lack broader familiarity with public policies and public policymaking.
Citations:
www.uchile.cl%2Fdocumentos%2Festudio-sobre-el-comportamiento-lector-a-nivel-nacional_110593_2_2405.pdf&usg=AFQjCNHhAyEyR819xPkhH1ch5LLl0dIGJQ&sig2=yRzmtJFaAlB-Bf3ltxYgsw

http://radio.uchile.cl/2011/12/14/solo-el-84-de-los-chilenos-entiende-lo-que-lee
Cyprus
Traditionally strong interest and high participation in politics and elections has given way in recent years to political apathy and indeed alienation. This is testified by the low rate of political discussions among the general population, sinking turnout in elections (down from 90% to 66% in 10 years), and low rate of young people registering on electoral rolls.

The reasons may be linked to very low trust in institutions; the latest Eurobarometer (June 2019) shows only 10% trust for political parties, 34% for the parliament and 36% for the government.

Disengagement from politics is likely to affect citizens’ level of information on policies. In 2018 and 2019, the media consistently noted the government’s failure to properly inform the people or explain important policies and decisions.
Citations:
1. Public’s trust in institutions being eroded, president says, Cyprus Mail, 14 March 2019, https://cyprus-mail.com/2019/03/14/mps-state-commissioner-with-bad-debts-named/
Greece
Citizens do not really obtain enough information on government policymaking, as the media is strongly partisan or leans toward infotainment, while individual members of parliament rarely discuss substantive policy issues with voters in the electoral districts which they represent. Electoral turnout rates were high until the crisis began, but declined rapidly since (though relevant data should be treated with caution, as the electoral register has not been systematically updated). Greeks rarely turn to policymakers (i.e., government ministers and members of parliament) to voice their opinion on policies. Rather, they mostly rely on interest groups to do so on their behalf.

There is also a tradition in Greece of appealing to government ministers or members of parliament on an individual basis to obtain favors, such as the facilitation of the hiring of a family member in the public sector. After 2010, owing to the depletion of state funds, this tradition was somewhat curbed, but the tendency to engage in patronage relations has not been adequately addressed. Upon ascending to government, political parties continue to staff ministerial cabinets, boards of directors of public entities and the lower echelons of public bureaucracy with their supporters where possible. Voters, for their part, welcome this practice.

Most citizens are not well-informed about government policies. However, those who are voice policy opinions in several ways. For example, citizens can participate in the process of open electronic consultation on new government measures, which each ministry must announce and manage before drafting a bill. Moreover, there is a strong tradition of organized interest groups voicing opinions on policy matters relevant to their interest areas.

In this context, political participation in decision-making has not improved.
Citations:
The Ministry of Interior reports turnout in elections. The relevant percentage figures are available at the Ministry’s http://ekloges.ypes.gr. The open-government consultation site is available at www.opengov.gr.
Lithuania
Citizens have access to some government information, but the public in large part lacks the civic awareness and policy knowledge that enables an adequate understanding of government policymaking and facilitates participation. Therefore, citizens and other external stakeholders rarely engage in policymaking; indeed, less than one-third participate in solving public issues at the municipal level, according to data from the Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior.

Several initiatives aimed at improving the citizens’ access of information do exist, however. The Public Management Improvement Program is designed to achieve this goal by defining the scope and content of public information to be made accessible, and by centralizing the provision of information about the government’s performance. In addition, the Lithuania 2030 Strategy envisions the implementation of programs devoted to educating responsible citizens. Despite this, Lithuania still faces substantial challenges with regard to increasing its citizens’ participatory capacity. In its review of Lithuania’s open-government programs, the OECD recommended supporting the development of Lithuania’s civil society through capacity-building and collaboration with the activities of the newly established NGO Council, with the ultimate aim of engaging citizens more deeply in government policymaking processes.
Citations:
Reference to the Report of the Ministry of the Interior: vakokybe.vrm.lt/get.php?f.867 Reference to the Public Management Improvement Program: http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=418407&p_query=vie%F0ojo%20valdymo%20tobulinimo%20programa&p_tr2=2.
OECD, Public Governance Review Lithuania- Fostering Open and Inclusive Policy Making Key Findings and Recommendations. 2015.
Poland
Despite recent attempts to improve access to government information, the average level of knowledge regarding government policy within the Polish public remains limited. Many citizens have little knowledge regarding major political and public institutions, and are unfamiliar with basic political facts. Reasons for this low level of policy knowledge include a tendency toward infotainment in many media outlets, the populist propaganda produced by the government party, and a general detachment from politics among the citizenry. Moreover, political parties (which for the most part lack a broad membership base), trade unions and most other professional associations do not properly perform their socialization function, and do not work to improve their members’ policy knowledge. However, a segment of society has become more interested in politics due to strong dissatisfaction with the PiS government’s policies and the polarization of society. This became visible, for example, in the increased turnout for the European and national elections.
Citations:
Pazderski, F. (2019): In the Grip of Authoritarian Populism. Polish Attitudes to an Open Society. Brussels: Open Society Foundation, European Policy Institute (https://www.isp.org.pl/pl/publikacje/in-the-grip-of-authoritarian-populism-polish-attitudes-to-an-open-society).

Gyárfášova, O., C. Molnár, P. Krekó, F. Pazderski, V. Wessenauer (2018): Youth, Politics, Democracy: Public Opinion Research in Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Warsaw: Instytut Spraw Publycznych.
Portugal
As noted in previous SGI reports, the bailout heightened citizens’ attention to and interest in policy matters, as did the occurrence of a legislative election in the previous period but one. In the period currently under review, the situation continues to be regressing as the bailout – and ensuing austerity measures – recede from the horizon. In a Eurobarometer survey carried out in June 2019, a total of 52% of respondents in Portugal had a “strong” or “medium” interest in politics, a roughly similar proportion to 2018 and 2017. This is the second-lowest total within the EU-28 with regard to “strong” and “medium” interest in politics, above only France, and well below the EU average of 63%. Moreover, the proportion of respondents attesting to no interest in politics was 34%, second only to Spain (36%).

This result further strengthens our assessment in previous SGI reports that the Portuguese public’s policy knowledge is limited and unevenly distributed. The factors limiting citizens’ policy knowledge include the insufficient and incomplete explanation of policy by the government, the incomplete and insufficient explanation of policy alternatives by the opposition, a media system that tends to focus more on short-term issues and scandals than on in-depth policy analysis, presentation of policy in terms that tend to be exclusionary for most citizens; and a weak civil society that is unable to socialize and educate citizens on policy issues.
Citations:
Eurobarometer 91 (Data Annex), June 2019. Available online at: https://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/Survey/getSurveyDetail/instruments/STANDARD/surveyKy/2253
Romania
Public knowledge of government policy remains low. Most of the population, especially in rural areas and small towns, have no clue as to what government policies are being proposed or implemented. They might know the name of the president, but not the names of the prime minister and individual cabinet members; they know nothing at all about policy, but judge government activity mostly in ideological terms.
USA
With regards to how government works, and the complexity of the issues addressed by policies and policymaking, the U.S. public is generally quite uninformed. Comparing citizens’ levels of governmental knowledge across political systems is difficult. In recent years, observers have become most concerned about the strength of “partisan motivated reasoning” on the part of ordinary citizens. An unprecedented series of scandals, failures and deviations from consensus policies have barely affected public approval of Trump, which has held almost constant at around 42% throughout his first three years in office. According to the 2019 Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey, only 39% of U.S. adults could correctly identify the three branches of government (executive, judicial and legislative).
Citations:
https://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/americans-civics-knowledge-increases-2019-survey/
4
Croatia
Citizens’ policy knowledge in Croatia is limited. Most citizens show only minimal interest in the workings of government and politics. Moreover, the media situation makes it difficult to obtain detailed information on specific government policies. According to the latest Reuters Digital News Report, Croatia has the largest percentage of citizens who actively avoid news (more than 50%) among a sample of 30 countries.
Citations:
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (2019): Digital News Report 2019. Oxford (https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2019-06/DNR_2019_FINAL_0.pdf).
Hungary
Citizens’ policy knowledge has suffered from the government’s biased information policies and the lack of transparency that characterizes Hungarian policymaking. The failure of the democratic opposition in the 2018 parliamentary elections initially led to political apathy. Since the municipal elections in October 2019, however, the political interest of many citizens has increased. Fidesz-fatigue has nurtured a thirst for independent news. The new opposition leadership in Budapest might also be able to improve citizens’ policy knowledge by strengthening independent policy institutes, such as Policy Agenda, Political Capital and Policy Solutions.
Slovenia
According to a Eurobarometer survey in May 2017, around 70% of Slovenian citizens think they are well informed about what is going on in the country – though their knowledge of government policymaking is rather limited. While both print and electronic media provide mostly adequate information, certain segments of the population lack media literacy, and most citizens are simply not interested in the details of policymaking. The recurring corruption and political scandals have fostered frustration and disenchantment among a majority of the population. Eurobarometer surveys suggest that the interest in politics and the trust in political institutions have increased in 2019. However, trust levels in parliament, political parties and public administration have remained below the EU-28 average.
Citations:
European Commission (2017): Standard Eurobarometer 87. Brussels (http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/Survey/getSurveyDetail/instruments/STANDARD/surveyKy/2142).
Turkey
Except for the Ministry of Finance and the central bank, the government generally does not adequately inform citizens about the content and development of government policy. The head of government, ministers and high government officials highlight success stories and policies, but do not offer follow-up details. There are few surveys that review how citizens get information on government policy, it is evident that policymaking in Turkey is not transparent or participatory.

The government follows a selective approach defined by perception management when it comes to informing citizens about governmental processes. Although citizens in Turkey do reflect critically on politics in general, they often learn of policies only after implementation has begun. Policy plans are kept largely secret or are subject to last-minute changes, and the parliament’s tendency to pass important measures as a part of an omnibus of legislative packages has been increasingly criticized, because it confuses the public. The annual activity reports issued by public institutions provide only data on policy achievements. A recent report on governance in Istanbul’s municipalities indicated that municipalities do not provide stakeholders with sufficient information on decision-making processes.

Social media can facilitate input-output and implementation and feedback in governmental processes. However, the accessibility and reliability of social media is a major obstacle. In 2018, the number of broadband internet subscribers reached 71.8 million and mobile broadband penetration significantly increased to 73.1%, though it is still below the OECD average of 102.4%. Moreover, the recent restrictions and bans placed on social media and its limited presence make it ineffective in disseminating policy information.
Citations:
European Commission, Turkey 2019 Report, Brussels, 29.5.2019, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/20190529-turkey- report.pdf (accessed 1 November 2019)

T. Gülaslan, Kamu Yönetiminde Sosyal Medya Kullanımı ve Yönetimi: Temel İlkeler ve Öneriler, Phd Dissertation, Hacettepe University, Ankara, 2018.

Bilal Alat, “Türkiye’de İl Belediye Web Sitelerinin İşlevselliği Üzerine Bir Araştırma,” Fırat Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi, 28(1), 2018: 93-114.

Belediye Yönetişim Karnesi, http://belediyekarnesi.argudenacademy.org/docs/Arguden-Akademi_Belediye-Yonetisim-Karnesi.pdf, (accesssed 27 October 2018)

Digital in 2018: Global Overview, https://hootsuite.com/pages/digital-in-2018 (accessed 1 November 2018)
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