Does popular influence over policy lead to good outcomes?
Does popular influence over policy produce good outcomes? It is surprisingly hard to say. The highest standards of human well-being are generally found in established democracies. But influential scholars have recently questioned the competence of the electorate, arguing that most people have little idea of what goes on in politics, and know even less of which policies they would benefit from. Research the last decade has also shown that it is far from certain that the existence of democratic institutions means that the preferences of the average voter impacts policy. A finding common to contexts as diverse as the United States and Sweden is that the opinions of the wealthy matters much more than those of the poor. If life is better in democracies, it might thus not be because people can govern themselves competently; instead, it has been argued that the good outcomes reflect other features than popular influence over policy, such as rule of law for elites, or the absence of corruption. This project will bring evidence to bear on the debate, using a new, world-leading dataset that combines millions of survey answers with data on the implementation of thousands of policies in 43 countries. We will thus be able to see whether political and economic outcomes such as growth, unemployment, inequality and satisfaction with democracy turn out better when policy follows the “will of the people.”