VOX POPULI NEWSLETTER
The Public Trust Deficit Plaguing Democracies
A recent international poll, called the Edelman Trust Barometer, found that the percentage of citizens in democratic countries who trust their government “to do what is right” has sunk to an all-time low, while trust in more autocratic governments, such as China, has actually increased.
The democratic governments that lost the most public trust over the last year were Germany (down 12 points to 48%), the Netherlands (down 11 points to 58%), and Australia (down 9 points to 52%). By contrast, trust in government went up in China (up 9 points to 91%), Thailand (up 9 points to 60%), and the United Arab Emirates (up 7 points to 87%).
This divergence has been attributed, in part, to governments’ response to the pandemic. However, democracies and autocracies have rarely been on equal footing when it comes to trust from the public. Far fewer citizens in democratic countries tend to have trust in their government.
International polling by the Program for Public Consultation conducted in 2008 found low levels of confidence in democratic governments and higher levels in more autocratic governments. For example, majorities said they trust their government only some of the time or never in Britain (67%), France (64%), and the United States (60%). The study also found that lack of trust in government was linked to perceptions of responsiveness: among those that said their government was responsive, 64% trusted their government to do the right thing, compared to just 31% of those who perceived their government as unresponsive.
To address this issue, Voice of the People has been working to give citizens a greater and more effective voice in policymaking through the use of public consultations. In numerous surveys, American voters say they believe public consultation would improve the responsiveness of government to the public and would help restore confidence in government.
NYC Solitary Confinement Clash Highlights Public Support For Limits
Debate between New York City Councilmembers and new Mayor Eric Adams about the future of solitary confinement in NYC jails has come to a boiling point, bringing the issue into the national spotlight. Last spring, the New York State Legislature passed a law limiting the use of solitary in state prisons to no more than 15 consecutive days and barring the practice for certain groups, including minors and those with certain disabilities. The law goes into effect at the end of March.
In opposition to two-thirds of the City Council and former Mayor Bill de Blasio, Mayor Eric Adams promised to reverse limits on the use of solitary confinement, arguing that the punishment, which isolates inmates up to 20 hours a day, is necessary to rein in growing violence at Rikers.
Nationally, the public’s desire for restrictions on solitary in federal prisons is unequivocal. In a 2021 survey by the Program for Public Consultation, an overwhelming majority (86%) of American voters support reforms in current Congressional legislation that would greatly restrict the use of solitary confinement, including 84% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats.
The most popular proposal for reform, written by Senator Durbin, was chosen by 58% (Republicans 71%, Democrats 50%) and would allow solitary confinement to be used as punishment for serious violations. Time in solitary for disciplinary purposes would be limited to 30 days in a row and no more than 40 days in a two-month period.
A broader proposal introduced by Rep. Watson Coleman was selected by 28% (Republicans 13%, Democrats 40%) and would prohibit any use of solitary confinement for disciplinary purposes. Inmates would receive regular medical and mental evaluations, and if a medical professional determines that it is having adverse health risks, the person would be removed from solitary. This proposal would limit the period to 15 days in a row and no more than 20 days in a two-month period. Only 10% (Republicans 12%, Democrats 7%) rejected both proposals, demonstrating a clear consensus.
Policymaking Simulation: Put yourself in the shoes of policymakers by trying our policymaking simulation on policies amending rules on solitary confinement. In this simulation, you’ll get a briefing on the issue, learn the arguments for and against solitary confinement reform, and determine your policy recommendations. Once you finish the simulation, you’ll have a chance to send your recommendation to your Congresspeople.
Irish Citizen Assembly on Drug Policy
The three coalition parties in Ireland have committed to holding a citizens’ assembly on drug use. Proponents say this could be a major opportunity to re-evaluate Irish drug policy.
The Irish Citizens Assemblies (An Tionól Saoránach, translated as We the People) first began in 2016 and have increasingly played a key role in Irish politics. They have covered policies such as term limits, population ageing, and climate change; as well as abortion, which lead to the landmark referendum in 2018 that removed the country’s constitutional ban on abortion.
The Assemblies consist of 99 citizens, chosen to be representative of the country’s demographics, and one chairperson. During their time in the Assembly, the members hear from experts, have roundtable discussions, and receive questions from the general public. At the end of the several-week process, the Assembly produces a report outlining and explaining their policy recommendations. The government is then supposed to respond to this report with legislation, executive policy changes or a referendum, but is not legally bound.
Dublin Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan, who worked to get the government to commit to a citizens’ assembly on drug policy, said: “In my constituency, there’s very little that’s more important than drug policy…The reform of drug legislation is a complex area and not one where we necessarily share the views of our coalition partner. We felt the drugs citizens’ assembly was an excellent and objective way forward that could provide for evidence-based and person-focused change.”
Independent Senator Lynn Ruane, another member of the coalition government, stated: “We’ve had a huge impact from a number of citizens’ assemblies now. So I think they have proven to be worthwhile.”