Responsive Government? Public Opinion and Government Policy Preferences in Britain and Denmark



The ability of a political system to respond to the preferences of its citizens is central to democratic theory and practice; yet most empirical research on government responsiveness has concentrated on the United States. As a result, we know very little about the nature of government policy responsiveness in Europe and we have a poor understanding of the conditions that affect cross-national variations. This comparative study examines the relationship between public opinion and policy preferences in the United Kingdom and Denmark during the past three decades. We address two key questions: First, are the government's policy intentions driven by public opinion or vice versa? Second, do political institutions influence the level of government responsiveness? We suggest that public opinion tends to drive the government's policy intentions due to the threat of electoral sanction, and that this is more pronounced in proportional systems than in majoritarian democracies.