Danielle May

Public Opinion on State Party Funding

How parties in modern democracies are funded matters for the ways in which they compete against each other, organize themselves, and represent citizens. Money in politics can therefore have huge consequences for how citizens experience democracy. Citizens are very sceptical of parties receiving funds from “big donors”, like corporations, wealthy individuals, interest groups and trade unions. The main alternative to big donor funding is to provide parties with substantial state funds. Scholars agree that state-reliant systems are generally more equal and provide better representational outcomes than donor-reliant systems. But, what do citizens think about state party funding? That is the question this dissertation addresses. It finds that, despite concerns that citizens may be too uninformed to form meaningful opinions on party funding, their preferences and considerations are in fact well aligned with scholars’ normative positions. They clearly prefer state funding to big donor funding, whether they live in a donor-reliant system (the UK) or a state-reliant system (Denmark). Moreover, they are able to update their preferences when they are faced with new information. When told that state funding is necessary to reduce the influence of big donors, and to support the essential work of political parties, citizens’ support for state party funding increases substantially, especially amongst people with strong anti-establishment sentiments. The findings offer important insights and advancements for scholars in the fields of party politics and public opinion, and have real-world implications for legislators concerned with making policies that reflect how citizens want their parties to be funded.  

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