Civic Engagement

Background

Today, more than ever, citizens demand greater transparency from their governments. Information on the who, why and how of decision making is essential to hold government to account, maintain confidence in public institutions and support a level playing field for business. Greater transparency is not only key to upholding integrity in the public sector; it also contributes to better governance. Indeed, openness and transparency can ultimately improve public services by minimising the risk of fraud, corruption and mismanagement of public funds.

Trust in government is essential for social cohesion and well-being. Across OECD countries, 39% of citizens say they trust their national government.

Voter Turnout

High voter turnout is another measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process. Voter turnout is defined as the percentage of the registered population that voted during an election. High voter turnout is desirable in a democracy because it increases the chance that the political system reflects the will of a large number of individuals, and that the government enjoys a high degree of legitimacy.

Even if the right to vote is universal in all OECD countries, Brazil and the Russian Federation, not everyone exercises this right. In the most recent elections for which data is available, voter turnout averaged 72% in OECD countries. Research has shown that more educated people are more likely to vote than less educated ones, and that older people are more likely to vote than younger ones. There is little difference in the voting rate between men and women in most OECD countries, although in France, Ireland and Switzerland, men outvote women by more than 5 percentage points, while women outvote men by approximately 6 percentage points in Estonia and the United Kingdom. In Russian Federation, women outvote men by nearly 8 percentage points. How well-off you are also affects how likely you are to vote. Voter turnout generally increases with individual income and on average there is a 10 percentage point estimated difference between the top 20% of the population and the bottom 20%. This gap reaches 29 percentage points in Korea and 25 percentage points in Poland. However, in Chile, the bottom 20% are more likely to vote than the top 20%, but by a very small margin, suggesting there is broad social inclusion in their democratic institutions.

Voter participation is the best existing means of measuring civic and political engagement for several reasons (high quality data, broad cross-country comparability). However, this measure is far from ideal, in particular because of institutional differences in electoral systems. While voter turnout is indeed compulsory (and strongly enforced) in several countries, it is nevertheless a useful measure of citizen engagement.

In the context of the Better Life Index, voter turnout measures how civic engagement contributes to the well-being of people and society. From this perspective, high voter turnout reflects the will of a very large number of individuals (irrespective of what actually drives high participation).

For more information on estimates and years of reference, see FAQ section and BLI database.

Consultation on Rule-making

Transparency in communication and open access to regulations promotes government accountability, a business-friendly environment and public trust in government institutions. Indeed, a country’s regulations contain much information about how a society is organised, the rules of the game and the political decisions taken. If citizens can readily access and understand regulations, it is more likely that they will participate in the legislative process and comply with the rules.

The Consultation on Rule-making indicator describes the extent to which formal consultation processes are built-in to the regulatory law-making process.  The indicator is based on a composite index comprised of various information on the openness and transparency of the consultation process.  It refers to the existence of institutional practices but does not, however, gauge whether these procedures are in fact effective.

Civic Engagement in Detail by Country