One of the limitations of popular rule is that the people can’t vote on every matter. Instead, faced daily with complex decisions on everything from the environment to aviation to foreign affairs, governments often take the lead. But governments still consult citizens in order to be guided by the people’s broad values and policy preferences.
That, at least, is the theory of how modern democracies function. And it is a useful theory: it preserves the notion that “the people” are still in charge.
However, I was recently part of a team of researchers who ran the Future of Australia’s Federation Survey. We received answers from nearly 2,000 state and federal public servants across Australia on a 39-point questionnaire. Our questions gauged, among other things, what really goes on when policy is made on citizens’ behalf.