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Crisis of confidence grips democracy

21 June 20190 comments

Democracy is facing a crisis in the western world with a new study finding a majority of citizens across 27 leading democratic nations dissatisfied with the way the system is working.

Washington-based think tank the Pew Research Centre found that, on average, more people across the nations surveyed were dissatisfied than satisfied with the way democracy is working in their country.

And this particularly held true in a dozen countries, including the US, UK and Japan, where negative views of democracy were more prevalent than positive views by more than 10 percentage points.

In Australia, 59 percent of people were satisfied with how democracy was working while 40 per cent were not.

The Pew research found that the 12 countries most dissatisfied with their democracy included four – Mexico, Greece, Brazil and Spain – where eight-in-ten or more were dissatisfied with the state of democracy.

Another five where six-in-ten or more expressed dissatisfaction were Tunisia, Italy, South Africa, Argentina and Nigeria. In the US 58 per cent expressed unhappiness with the way democracy is functioning.

People’s views of their country’s economy were strongly linked to their views of democracy, the study found.

“In nine of the 12 countries most dissatisfied with democracy, at least two-thirds of those who said their country’s current economic situation is bad also were dissatisfied with democracy,” the study said.

“In the remaining three – Greece, Tunisia and Brazil – so few people said the economy is good that the relationship between views of the economy and of democracy could not be analysed. In these countries, more than 90 percent of people were unhappy with the economy,” it said.

Attitudes toward elected officials also often correlated with how people saw democracy. In the 12 most dissatisfied countries, majorities disagreed with the statement “elected officials care what ordinary people think”.

This view was especially common in Greece (90 percent), Argentina (79 per cent), Spain (79 per cent) and Brazil (78 per cent). In the US, 58 percent described their country as one in which elected officials do not care about the people, the Pew research found.

Political corruption was another common concern in the countries most dissatisfied with democracy. Substantial majorities in seven of these 12 countries said the statement “most politicians are corrupt” describes their country well – including 89 per cent in Greece and 72 per cent South Africa , 72 per cent in Nigeria, 70 per cent in Italy, 69 per cent in the US, 67 per cent in Tunisia and 63 per cent in Argentina.

And majorities in seven of the 12 countries most dissatisfied with democracy said that in their country, no matter who wins an election, things do not change very much.

Scepticism in elections’ ability to change things ran highest among Greeks – 82 percent of whom doubted their elections led to much change – and was also common in Tunisia (67 per cent, the UK (65 per cent), Japan (62 per cent) and South Africa (61 per cent), the Pew research found.

It found that between 2017 and 2018, dissatisfaction with democracy grew in 14 of the 27 countries surveyed, with the largest increases in India and Germany – as well as Brazil, where two-thirds of the public already had a negative view in 2017.

But several countries showed a decrease compared with the previous year. This was most notable in South Korea, where dissatisfaction with democracy fell by 34 percentage points – the largest shift in either direction among countries surveyed.

“Over this period, President Park Geun-hye was removed from office on corruption charges and sentenced to 24 years in prison,” the study said.

“And although Mexico was the most dissatisfied with democracy of countries surveyed in 2018, the share who expressed dissatisfaction declined by 8 points from a year earlier,” it said.

“Opinions of the state of democracy weren’t bleak everywhere. In eight countries surveyed, four-in-ten or fewer said they were dissatisfied with democracy, with dissatisfaction lowest in Sweden (30 percent) and the Philippines (31 percent),” the Pew study said.