Many Across the Globe Are Dissatisfied With How Democracy Is Working

Discontent is tied to concerns about the economy, individual rights and out-of-touch elites

Anger at political elites, economic dissatisfaction and anxiety about rapid social changes have fueled political upheaval in regions around the world in recent years. Anti-establishment leaders, parties and movements have emerged on both the right and left of the political spectrum, in some cases challenging fundamental norms and institutions of liberal democracy. Organizations from Freedom House to the Economist Intelligence Unit to V-Demhave documented global declines in the health of democracy.

As previous Pew Research Center surveys have illustrated, ideas at the core of liberal democracy remain popular among global publics, but commitment to democracy can nonetheless be weak. Multiple factors contribute to this lack of commitment, including perceptions about how well democracy is functioning. And as findings from a new Pew Research Center survey show, views about the performance of democratic systems are decidedly negative in many nations. Across 27 countries polled, a median of 51% are dissatisfied with how democracy is working in their country; just 45% are satisfied.

Assessments of how well democracy is working vary considerably across nations. In Europe, for example, more than six-in-ten Swedes and Dutch are satisfied with the current state of democracy, while large majorities in Italy, Spain and Greece are dissatisfied.

To better understand the discontent many feel with democracy, we asked people in the 27 nations studied about a variety of economic, political, social and security issues. The results highlight some key areas of public frustration: Most believe elections bring little change, that politicians are corrupt and out of touch and that courts do not treat people fairly. On the other hand, people are more positive about how well their countries protect free expression, provide economic opportunity and ensure public safety.

We also asked respondents about other topics, such as the state of the economy, immigration and attitudes toward major political parties. And in Europe, we included additional questions about immigrants and refugees, as well as opinions about the European Union.

Bivariate and multilevel regression analyses (see Appendix A for methodological details) show that, among the factors studied, dissatisfaction with democracy is related to economic frustration, the status of individual rights, as well as perceptions that political elites are corrupt and do not care about average citizens. Additionally, in Europe the results suggest that dissatisfaction with the way democracy is working is tied to views about the EU, opinions about whether immigrants are adopting national customs and attitudes toward populist parties.

These are among the findings of a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 30,133 people in 27 countries from May 14 to Aug. 12, 2018.

Economic discontent and democratic dissatisfaction

Chart showing that those around the world who say the current economy is bad are more dissatisfied with the way democracy is working.The link between views of the economy and assessments of democratic performance is strong. In 24 of 27 countries surveyed, people who say the national economy is in bad shape are more likely than those who say it is in good shape to be dissatisfied with the way democracy is working. In the other three countries surveyed, so few people say the economy is good that this relationship cannot be analyzed.

For example, eight-in-ten Hungarians who say the national economic situation is poor are also dissatisfied with the performance of the country’s democracy, compared with just 26% of those who believe the economic situation is good.

Views about economic opportunity also play a role. In 26 of 27 nations, those who believe their country is one in which most people cannot improve their standard of living are more likely to be dissatisfied with the way democracy is working.

However, personal income is not a major factor. And multilevel regression analysis suggests that, in general, demographic variables including gender, age and education are not strongly related to democratic dissatisfaction.

Individual rights and democratic performance

Chart showing that those who think free speech is not protected in their country are more dissatisfied with democracy.While views about economic conditions have a strong relationship with assessments of democratic performance, non-economic factors also play an important role. Opinions about how well democracy is working in a country are related to whether people believe their most fundamental rights are being respected.

In every nation studied, dissatisfaction with democracy is more common among people who say the statement “the rights of people to express their views in public are protected” does not describe their country well. This pattern is especially apparent in Europe, where in nations such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Hungary those who believe free expression is not protected are significantly more likely to be unhappy with the state of democracy.

Discontent with the functioning of democracy is also linked to views about how people are treated within a country’s justice system. In 24 nations, dissatisfaction is particularly common among those who think the statement “the court system treats everyone fairly” does not describe their country well. Again, the pattern is especially intense in Europe. For example, among Hungarians who offer a negative assessment of the country’s courts, 68% are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working, while dissatisfaction is just 32% among those who believe the courts treat everyone fairly.

Chart showing that there is more dissatisfaction with democracy among those who say elected officials do not care what ordinary people think.Frustration with politicians breeds dissatisfaction with democracy

In addition to views about political rights, attitudes toward politicians also influence the degree to which people are satisfied or dissatisfied with the performance of their country’s democracy. For instance, dissatisfaction is pervasive among people who see politicians as uncaring and out of touch.

In 26 nations, unhappiness with the current functioning of democracy is more common among those who believe the statement “elected officials care what ordinary people think” does not describe their country well.

Many also say the politicians in their country are corrupt, and those who hold this view are consistently more dissatisfied with how their democracy is functioning.

Concerns about immigrants, dislike of EU and favorable opinion of populist parties are tied to dissatisfaction in Europe

Chart showing that Europeans with unfavorable views of the EU are more dissatisfied with democracy.The study highlights additional factors related to democratic dissatisfaction in Europe, including attitudes toward the EU. As a recent Pew Research Center reporthighlighted, Europeans still tend to associate the EU with noble aspirations, such as peace, prosperity and democracy. At the same time, they also say the Brussels-based institution is inefficient, intrusive and out of touch with ordinary citizens.

Europeans who have a negative view of the EU also tend to be more dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in their countries than those who view the EU favorably. The gap is largest in Germany, where those who have an unfavorable opinion of the EU are 43 percentage points more dissatisfied than those with a favorable opinion.

Chart showing that those who say immigrants want to be culturally distinct are more dissatisfied with democracy.Immigration has been a particularly contentious issue in Europe since 2015, when refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere entered Europe in record numbers. Across the region, concerns about how immigrants fit into society are linked to democratic dissatisfaction.

In six European countries, those who think immigrants want to be distinct from society rather than adopting the country’s customs are more likely to be dissatisfied with democracy. For example, 52% of Swedes who say immigrants want to remain distinct are dissatisfied, compared with just 15% of those who believe immigrants want to adopt Swedish customs.

Anger at the EU and opposition to immigration have been consistent themes in the rhetoric and platforms of many right-wing populist parties that have gained support in the past few years. At the same time, Europe has seen the rise of several left-wing populist parties, such as La France Insoumise, Spain’s Podemos and Greece’s ruling Syriza party.

Overall, populist party sympathizers tend to be unhappy with the way their democracies are working (parties were classified using the Chapel Hill Expert Survey; for more, see Appendix B). Nearly six-in-ten Swedes with a favorable opinion of the Sweden Democrats are dissatisfied with the current state of democracy, compared with only 17% of those who see the right-wing party negatively. Similarly, 69% of Germans with a positive view of the right-wing AfD are dissatisfied, while just 37% hold that view among Germans who rate AfD negatively.

Chart showing that people with favorable views of populist parties tend to be more dissatisfied with democracy.

The same pattern is found among those who sympathize with left-wing populist parties in some nations. For instance, six-in-ten who have a favorable view of La France Insoumise are dissatisfied with how democracy is working, compared with 47% of French people who see the party negatively.

Interestingly, those with favorable opinions of two European populist parties are more satisfied with how democracy is working: the UK’s right-wing, pro-Brexit UKIP and Greece’s left-wing Syriza.

Dissatisfaction with performance of democracy is common in many nations

Chart showing that there are divided views on the state of democracy across the 27 countries that were surveyed.Around the world, more people are unhappy with the state of democracy in their countries than are content. Across 27 countries surveyed, a median of 51% are dissatisfied with the way their democracy is functioning, compared with 45% who are satisfied.

Discontent varies somewhat across regions of the globe. Those in the Asia-Pacific region, for example, tend to be satisfied with how democracy is working in their countries; only in Japan do a majority say they are dissatisfied.

Europeans are, on balance, disaffected; in six of the 10 European countries surveyed, half or more say they are dissatisfied with how democracy is working. Discontent is highest in the southern European countries of Italy, Spain and Greece, where 70% or more say they are dissatisfied. In contrast, roughly a third or fewer hold this view in Sweden and the Netherlands.

Across the sub-Saharan African and Latin American countries surveyed, around half or more in every country say they are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working.

Dissatisfaction with democracy is higher in emerging than advanced economies. A median of 60% express dissatisfaction across the nine emerging economies surveyed, compared with 50% across the 18 developed economies (for more on how advanced and emerging economies were classified, see Appendix C).

In many countries, dissatisfaction with democracy grew between 2017 and 2018

Chart showing that dissatisfaction with how democracy is working increased in many countries across the 27 included.Between 2017 and 2018, dissatisfaction with the way democracy is working significantly increased in roughly half of the countries polled. This increasing dissatisfaction is evident around the globe, regardless of whether the economies are advanced or emerging.

Ten countries did not experience any significant changes in democratic dissatisfaction, while it decreased in only three countries: South Korea, France and Mexico. South Korean opinion has shifted the most since 2017 of any country surveyed, with the percentage saying they are dissatisfied dropping from 69% to 35%. Over this period, President Park Geun-hye was impeached and sentenced to 24 years in prison.

In the six countries where concerns about the economic situation significantly increased since 2017, democratic dissatisfaction also rose. For example, in India, concerns about the economy increased the most of any surveyed country – 12% thought the economy was in bad shape in 2017, but by 2018 this opinion was held by 30% of adults. This increase in economic discontent is coupled with a 22-point rise in democratic dissatisfaction. In Germany and Brazil, as well, the rising sense that the economy is not in good shape has been accompanied by double-digit shifts in democratic dissatisfaction.

In France and South Korea, the opposite relationship is found. Both countries experienced significant decreases in democratic dissatisfaction alongside improvements in economic outlook. The U.S. stands out as the only country in which dissatisfaction with democracy has increased at the same time that people think the country’s economic situation is improving.

Age, education and views of parties out of power sometimes associated with dissatisfaction

Chart showing that educational divides in democratic dissatisfaction differ across advanced and emerging economies.There are few consistent age-related patterns when it comes to who is dissatisfied with the performance of democracy in their country. While those ages 50 and older in Australia, the Netherlands, South Korea, the UK and Germany tend to be more dissatisfied with democracy than those ages 18 to 29, in other countries, there is no relationship between age and dissatisfaction.

Education affects people’s satisfaction with democracy somewhat differently across emerging and advanced economies. In four of the nine emerging economies surveyed, those with higher levels of education tend to be more dissatisfied than those with lower levels of education.1 For example, Nigerians with at least a secondary degree are 24 percentage points more dissatisfied than those with less education.

The opposite is true in six of the 18 advanced economies surveyed, where those with lower levels of education are more dissatisfied than those with higher degrees. In the Netherlands, for example, those with less education are 15 points more dissatisfied than those with more education.

Income also impacts democratic dissatisfaction differently in some advanced and emerging economies. In four of the emerging economies surveyed, those with higher income levels are more dissatisfied than those with lower income levels.2 In contrast, in five of the advanced economies polled, those with lower incomes are more dissatisfied with democracy than those with higher incomes.

Chart showing that those who do not support the governing party are generally more dissatisfied with democracy in the 27 countries that were included in the survey.Across most of the countries surveyed, democratic dissatisfaction is higher among people who support parties that are not currently in government (see Appendix D). For example, in France, supporters of En Marche, the governing party, tend to be much less dissatisfied than people who don’t support En Marche. France boasts the largest gap in dissatisfaction between supporters and nonsupporters of the governing party (41 percentage points).

Italy, a country governed by a coalition of two populist parties, is an exception: 77% of those who support Northern League (now called League) or the Five Star Movement are dissatisfied, whereas 66% of those who do not support either party hold this view. (The coalition was created during the fieldwork period, nearly three months after the election.)

Dissatisfied democrats are more open to nondemocratic alternatives

This data, showing rising democratic dissatisfaction in many parts of the world, naturally elicits a question: If people are dissatisfied with democracy, are they more open to nondemocratic alternatives? To answer this question, we rely on data collected in 2017 from which we constructed an index of commitment to representative democracy.

Respondents in 2017 were asked whether each of a number of different systems would be a good or bad way to govern their country: (1) a democratic system where representatives elected by citizens decide on what becomes law (representative democracy); (2) a system in which experts, not elected officials, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country (rule by experts); (3) a system in which a strong leader can make decisions without interference from parliaments or courts (rule by a strong leader); and (4) a system in which the military rules the country (rule by the military).

They were then classified into three groups. “Committed democrats” are those who support a system where elected representatives govern, but do not support rule by experts, a strong leader or the military (i.e., nondemocratic governments). “Less-committed democrats” say a representative democracy is good, but support at least one nondemocratic form of government. “Non-democrats” are defined as those who do not support representative democracy and support at least one nondemocratic form of government. This commitment to democracy index ranges from 1 to 3, with 1 being the most committed to democracy and 3 being no commitment at all.

Respondents were also asked about their satisfaction with democracy, using the same question that we posed to them in 2018. All of the countries surveyed in 2018 were also surveyed in 2017. Across the 27 countries included in this report, people who were more dissatisfied with democracy also tended to be less committed to representative democracy, and so more likely to support governance options such as rule by experts, a strong leader or the military. This suggests that dissatisfaction with democracy is related to willingness to consider other, nondemocratic forms of government.

Publics satisfied with free speech, ability to improve living standards; many are critical of institutions, politicians

A median of 62% say their country is one where the rights of people to express their views in public are protected. When asked about a number of different statements that describe their country, this ranks as one of the first or second most cited in two-thirds of the countries surveyed.

Publics are also optimistic that most people have a good chance to improve their standard of living: A median of 57% say this is feasible in their countries. Most also feel relatively safe; in a majority of countries, only small shares of the public say most people in their country live in areas where it is dangerous to walk around at night.

When it comes to political institutions, however, publics are more critical. A median of six-in-ten think no matter who wins an election, things do not change very much. This sentiment is particularly prevalent in Europe; seven of the 10 European countries surveyed say this describes their country more than most other statements presented to them. People are somewhat more critical of their courts: A median of 44% share the opinion that the court system in their country treats everyone fairly, whereas a median of 53% say this does not describe their country well.

People are also skeptical of their politicians. Across the 27 countries surveyed, 54% think most politicians in their country are corrupt. And only 35% agree that elected officials care what ordinary people think.

By and large, supporters of the governing party or coalition are more inclined to say elected officials care what ordinary people think, freedom of expression is protected, and most people can better their standard of living. Those who support the governing party or coalition are also less likely to describe politicians in their country as corrupt in seven countries.

Chart showing that most say freedom of expression is protected in their country and things change little no matter who wins elections.

Most believe their right to free speech is protected

Chart showing that most publics across the 27 included in the survey agree that free speech is protected in their country.A 27-country median of 62% say their country protects freedom of expression. This sense is somewhat more prevalent in advanced than emerging economies (a median of 68% vs. 58%, respectively).

Across the North American and European nations surveyed, around half or more in most countries say their nation is one in which people can express their views in public. The sense that freedom of speech is protected is also widespread in the two Middle Eastern countries surveyed, as well as across the Asia-Pacific region. But, across the 27 nations, few say this describes their country very well.

Only in Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Italy and Mexico do about half or more say this statement does not describe their country well. In Brazil, roughly four-in-ten (39%) say this does not describe their country well at all.

Across most European countries surveyed, those who have favorable opinions of populist parties are significantly less likely to feel their country is one in which freedom of expression is protected. Take Sweden as an example: Those who have a favorable opinion of the Sweden Democrats are 30 percentage points less likely to think free speech is protected in their country than those who do not favor this party.

Most say they have the ability to improve their standard of living

Chart showing that majorities in most countries, across the 27 included in the survey, see ability to improve their standard of living.Publics generally say their countries are ones in which there are opportunities to improve living standards. A median of 57% across the 27 nations surveyed agree most people have a good chance to improve their own standard of living, including majorities in 16 of the 27 nations surveyed. This sentiment is slightly more widespread in the nine emerging economies surveyed (median of 62%) than in the 18 advanced economies (55%).

Filipinos, South Africans and Nigerians are especially likely to describe their countries as ones in which people can improve their economic situation; about four-in-ten or more in each country say this describes their country very well.

But in Italy, Spain and Greece, only about one-quarter of people say their country is one in which it is possible to improve their standard of living, with around four-in-ten in Spain (41%) saying this does not describe their country well at all.

Chart showing that age groups differ on views about economic opportunity.In all of the nations surveyed, the belief that people can get ahead economically is closely related to views about whether their country’s economy has improved over the past 20 years. Those who think the economic situation has gotten better are more likely to say most people in their country have the opportunity to advance their standard of living. For example, 69% of French people who think the economic situation today is better for the average person than it was in the past also say it is possible to improve their standard of living, compared with 33% among those who say the economic situation today is worse than it was 20 years ago. In most countries polled, people with positive assessments of their country’s current economic situation are also more likely to say that most people have a good chance to advance their standard of living.

In nine of the 27 nations, those ages 18 to 29 are more likely than those ages 50 and older to say people can improve their standard of living. For example, younger Germans are 21 percentage points more likely than older Germans to describe their country as a place where most have opportunities to better their standard of living.

Three countries stand out for the relative pessimism of the younger generation. In the U.S., South Korea and Tunisia, those under 30 are less likely than the oldest cohort to say their country is one in which people can improve their economic situation. In Tunisia, for example, 53% of those ages 50 and older are positive about the potential for people in their country to improve their standard of living compared with 39% of those 18 to 29.

Chart showing that there are mixed views of the judicial system across surveyed countries. Respondents were asked if the statement "the court system treats everyone fairly" describes their country well or not well.Global publics divided on whether court system treats everyone fairly

A 27-nation median of 44% say the statement “the court system treats everyone fairly” describes their country well, while a median of 53% say it does not. And opinions about a country’s court system vary little across the advanced and emerging economies surveyed.

Indonesians are particularly likely to say their courts are impartial; around three-quarters say the court system treats everyone fairly (74%), including around four-in-ten (38%) who say this describes their country very well. Views on the impartiality of the courts are also shared in the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Canada, the Philippines and Kenya, where roughly six-in-ten or more say this describes their country well.

Publics in Italy, Spain, South Korea and Argentina are less confident in the fairness of their court systems: Only around one-in-five in each of these nations say the courts treat everyone fairly. Roughly half or more in Argentina, Brazil, Spain and Mexico say this statement does not describe their country well at all.

Most publics do not feel elected officials care what ordinary people think

Chart showing that skepticism over elected officials is widespread in most countries surveyed. People were asked if the statement "elected officials care what ordinary people think" describes their country well or not well.In 20 of the 27 countries surveyed, around half or more say that the statement “elected officials care what ordinary people think” does not describe their country well.

Nine-in-ten Greeks agree the statement does not describe their country well, and upwards of around eight-in-ten say the same in Brazil, Spain and Argentina. Publics in these four countries also have high percentages who feel strongly about this: 62% of Brazilians, 57% of Greeks, 54% of Argentines and 48% of Spaniards say the statement does not describe their country well at all.

Among the minority of publics who do agree elected officials in their country care what ordinary people think, Indonesia and the Philippines stand out. In both countries, around seven-in-ten or more describe their country as one in which elected officials care about the people, including three-in-ten or more in each who say this describes their country very well.

Publics in the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden and Kenya are also somewhat sanguine about elected officials caring about the citizens in their country.

Although populism has myriad definitions, key components of the concept are that “the people” and “the elite” are two antagonistic groups and that the people’s will should provide the main source of government legitimacy. And, in four countries – the Netherlands, Hungary, Germany and Sweden – people with favorable views of populist parties are indeed less likely to say elected officials care what ordinary people think than those who view these parties unfavorably. For example, those with favorable views of the Sweden Democrats are 26 percentage points less likely than Swedes with unfavorable opinions of the party to describe elected officials as caring about ordinary people.

Chart showing that people with positive views of populist parties tend to say politicians are out of touch with ordinary people.

But, in Italy, where the populist parties Northern League and the Five Star Movement are currently governing, the relationship is reversed.3 Italians with favorable views of these two parties are more likely to say elected officials in their country care what ordinary people think.

Chart showing that more than half of publics surveyed say politicians are corrupt.Many describe their country’s politicians as corrupt

In 18 of the 27 countries surveyed, around half or more say their country can be described as one in which most politicians are corrupt.

In many European nations, roughly half or more say they live in a country in which the statement “most politicians are corrupt” describes their country well. Majorities also share this opinion in the U.S., as well as the two Middle Eastern and three sub-Saharan African countries surveyed. Opinion is more divided in the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America.

Greeks are the most likely to describe their politicians as corrupt (89%), while around three-quarters or more in Russia, South Korea, Nigeria and South Africa describe their country in a similar manner.

Publics in Sweden, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Mexico and Germany are the least likely to say their country can be described as one in which most politicians are corrupt.

Chart showing the educational divides in views of whether politicians are corrupt.In many of the 27 countries surveyed, there are educational divides on whether most politicians in the country can be described as corrupt. Particularly in emerging and developing economies, people with higher levels of education are more likely to say most politicians are corrupt. For example, Brazilians with more education are 27 percentage points more likely than those with less education to describe politicians in the country as corrupt.

But, in six countries – all of which are advanced economies – the pattern is reversed; people with less education are more likely to describe politicians as corrupt. Take Germany as an example: Germans with less than a postsecondary degree are 17 points more likely to say most politicians in their country are corrupt than Germans with more education.

Those with favorable opinions of populist parties in five European countries (the PVV in the Netherlands, AfD in Germany, Jobbik in Hungary, Sweden Democrats in Sweden and UKIP in the United Kingdom) are more likely than those with unfavorable opinions of these parties to say most politicians in their country are corrupt.

Few think things in their country change much after an election

One of the core tenets of democracy is that, after an election, parties and policies in the country may change. But many global publics say this doesn’t describe what happens in their countries following an election. A 27-country median of 60% say no matter who wins an election, things don’t change very much.

Chart showing that majorities in most countries surveyed say elections don’t change things. People were asked if the statement, "no matter who wins an election, things do not change very much" describes their country well or not well.

Greeks are the most likely to describe their country as one where things do not change very much no matter who wins an election (82%), followed by Australians (75%), Russians (72%) and Tunisians (67%). And, in Tunisia and Greece, more than half say this statement describes their country very well.

It is worth noting that whether or not things change a lot following an election could be interpreted as either a positive or a negative characteristic of democracy. For some, no change after an election may be a good thing, whereas for others it may be bad.

Chart showing that in many countries, relatively few say it is dangerous to walk around at night.Most say their countries are generally not dangerous for walking around at night

A median of 35% believe most people live in areas where it’s dangerous to walk around at night. But opinion diverges somewhat across advanced and emerging economies. In advanced economies, a median of only 30% say most people live in areas where it is dangerous to walk around at night, compared with a median of 45% across the nine emerging economies surveyed.

Around six-in-ten or more in Greece, Tunisia, South Africa, Nigeria and Argentina describe their country as one in which most people live in areas where it is dangerous to walk around at night, including roughly half or more in Tunisia and South Africa who say this describes their country very well. But, across most European, Asia-Pacific and North American countries surveyed, people largely agree this statement does not describe their country well.

There are also marked differences in people’s assessments based on income levels. In four emerging economies – India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico – those with higher incomes are more likely than those with lower incomes to describe their country as one in which most people live in areas where it is dangerous to walk around at night. In India, though, those with lower incomes are also less likely to answer the question.

In most advanced economies, the pattern reverses. Those with lower incomes are more likely to believe it is dangerous to walk around at night. For example, less affluent Australians are 20 percentage points more likely to say most people live in dangerous areas.Chart showing that in some advanced and emerging economies, views about danger of walking at night are divided by income.

Chart showing that in some countries included in the survey, women are more likely to say it is dangerous to walk around at night.Educational gaps follow a similar pattern. In many advanced economies, those with lower levels of education are somewhat more likely to describe their country as dangerous to walk around in at night. For example, in Germany, there is a 25-point gap between those with lower levels of education and those with a postsecondary degree or above (39% vs. 14%). But, in three of the emerging economies – Brazil, India and Indonesia – those with higher educational attainment are more likely to say many people live in dangerous areas.

In eight countries, women are more likely than men to describe their country as one in which it is dangerous to walk around at night. In South Korea, for example, women are 12 percentage points more likely than men to express this opinion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why are people dissatisfied with how democracy is working?

People are dissatisfied with the functioning of democracy in their countries for a host of reasons. For example, those who think politicians are corrupt or that the economic situation is bad in their country are more likely to be dissatisfied with democracy. Conversely, those who see key political institutions in their countries performing adequately – for example, those who think courts treat everyone fairly or that people can express their views in public – tend to be more satisfied with the way democracy is working.

Partisanship also plays a role. Those who have favorable views of populist parties and those who support parties that are not currently in power are more dissatisfied. In Europe, those who have unfavorable opinions of the EU or who think immigrants are resisting integration into society also tend to be unhappier with the state of democracy.

Other factors, however, have a weaker relationship with democratic satisfaction. By and large, people’s beliefs about whether it is safe to walk at night in their country have no relationship with whether they are satisfied with how democracy is working. Similarly, people’s opinions about whether their country should have more or less immigration are not related.

To further understand what informs satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the way democracy is working, we explored these and other relationships using multilevel regression. In this chapter, all factors discussed as contributing to democratic dissatisfaction are relationships that persist after accounting for other key attitudes and demographic variables (in regression parlance, we have “controlled” for other factors). For more about the methodology and for a more detailed presentation of the regression model informing these results, please see Appendix A.

Negative economic assessments related to dissatisfaction

Chart showing that pessimism about improving the standard of living is linked to dissatisfaction with democracy, across the 27 countries included in the survey.Many recent debates around democratic satisfaction have emphasized economic attitudes. Previous work by Pew Research Center found that those who are critical of the establishment and open to populist alternatives are more likely to have experienced economic hardships, such as unemployment.

This survey also finds that views of the economy are connected to attitudes toward democracy. In nearly all countries surveyed, people who say the economy is doing poorly are more dissatisfied with the way democracy is working. And, in countries where views of the economy turned more negative over the past year, dissatisfaction also increased.

Views of whether most people can improve their standard of living are also related to democratic dissatisfaction. Those who say their country is one in which most people cannot improve their standard of living tend to be more dissatisfied.

In the U.S., one’s ability to improve their standard of living is often associated withthe American dream. And Americans who say their country does not provide a good chance for most to advance their standard of living are 35 percentage points more dissatisfied with how democracy is working than those who see economic opportunities.

Views of democratic institutions, core freedoms also contribute to dissatisfaction

Chart showing that across the countries surveyed those who do not see courts as fair are more dissatisfied with the way democracy works.While our analysis finds that views of the economy help explain who is dissatisfied, other factors matter as well, especially attitudes about key elements of the political system.

Aspects that are often characterized as core tenets of democracy, like rights to freedom of expression and fair courts, are important in understanding people’s dissatisfaction. For example, across the 27 countries surveyed, those who say their country protects freedom of expression tend to be less dissatisfied with democracy. Confidence in the fairness of courts is also strongly related to dissatisfaction with democracy. Those who believe the court system in their country treats everyone fairly are less dissatisfied.

And, while this survey focused more generally on freedom of expression rather than directly on the role of the media, a past Pew Research Center report found a link between attitudes toward the news media and the government. A survey of 38 countries found that people who are less satisfied with the functioning of the news media also tend to express less trust in the government to do what is right for the country.

Chart showing that in most countries, those who describe politicians as corrupt are more dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in their country.Dissatisfaction related to sense of politicians being out of touch and corrupt

Beyond opinions of these core democratic institutions, perceptions of political officials play an important role in shaping people’s views about democratic performance. Those who think elected officials care what ordinary people think are much less likely to be dissatisfied.

While also important, the relationship between corruption and dissatisfaction is not as strong. Nonetheless, in several nations, there is a significant relationship. In Sweden, for instance, those who say most politicians are corrupt are 32 percentage points more dissatisfied than those who do not think this describes their country well.

And, in four of the nine emerging economies surveyed, those who describe most politicians as corrupt are actually lessdissatisfied with democracy.

Electoral change, perceptions of safety not linked to democratic dissatisfaction

Even though a 27-country median of six-in-ten say that things do not change very much no matter who wins an election, this opinion is not related to dissatisfaction with democracy in most countries. Nonetheless, support for the party or parties in power in a country does relate to democratic dissatisfaction.

In general, feeling safe when walking around at night is not related to democratic dissatisfaction. Even those who feel as if most people live in areas where it was not safe to walk around at night are not systematically more dissatisfied.

Via Pew Research Center

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