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Dissatisfaction with democracy at an all-time high, new study says

Police in Paris, France, forming a human barrier against protesters. Photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash

A study from the University of Cambridge’s new Centre for the Future of Democracy that was launched these days has found dissatisfaction with democracy around the world at its highest level in nearly a quarter-century.

The Centre’s Global Satisfaction with Democracy Report has tracked views on democracy each year since 1995, and this year includes data from 154 separate nations. Nearly three in five respondents expressed dissatisfaction with democracy in their own country, with particularly high levels of dissatisfaction registered in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Democracy is in a state of malaise

In the UK, 61 percent of respondents expressed dissatisfaction in 2019. In the US, where three-quarters of respondents regularly expressed satisfaction in the first 10 years of the survey, a majority in 2019 said they were dissatisfied.

The researchers examined data from more than 25 sources, 3,500 country surveys, and some four million respondents over a period dating back 25 years worldwide and nearly 50 years in Western Europe. They conclude that “across the globe, democracy is in a state of malaise,” with dissatisfaction “reaching an all-time global high, in particular in developed democracies.”

In some smaller countries and in Asian democracies, satisfaction is high

Worldwide, 57.5 percent of respondents said they are dissatisfied with democracy, up nearly 19 percent from 2005. Dissatisfaction levels were particularly pronounced in large industrial democracies such as Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, and Spain, in addition to the UK and US. However, in some smaller industrial democracies like Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland, democratic satisfaction is reaching all-time highs. Satisfaction levels were also high in Asian democracies. “For now, much of Asia has avoided the crisis of democratic faith affecting other parts of the world”, the report says.

The researchers write, “While it goes beyond the scope of this report to explain the cause of this shift, we observe that citizens’ levels of dissatisfaction with democracy are largely responsive to objective circumstances and events – economic shocks, corruption scandals, and policy crises. These have an immediately observable effect upon average levels of civic dissatisfaction.”

“If confidence in democracy has been slipping, it is because democratic institutions have been seen failing to address some of the major crises of our era, from economic crashes to the threat of global warming. To restore democratic legitimacy, that must change,” said Roberto Foa, one of the report’s authors.

In a statement published a few days ago, the Asia Democracy Network called on democracy advocates to unite and to fight against “democratic regression, attacks on human rights, and a growing manifestation of authoritarianism and marginalization.”

Peter Orvetti
Peter Orvetti is a writer, intelligence analyst, and world federalism advocate residing in Washington, D.C.
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