In Depth

Democracies face crisis of trust

Report finds that people have more faith in autocratic governments

Democracies around the world are facing a crisis of public trust, according to a new report which found that people have more faith in autocratic governments more than those deemed democratic.

German polling firm Dalia Research’s Democracy Perception Index 2018 surveyed 125,000 people in 50 countries. When asked “do you feel that your government is acting in your interest?” 64% of respondents living in democracies said “rarely” or “never”.

Nine out of the top ten countries with the highest percentages of people saying their voices were rarely or never heard were democracies, including Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Portugal.

This contrasts sharply with so-called “non-democratic” societies, in which just 41% of respondents said the government was not acting in their interest.

Whether a country is deemed “democratic” or “undemocratic” is based on rankings from respected US think tank Freedom House.

A second question, “Do you feel that the voice of people like you matters in politics?” delivered a similar result, with 54% of democratic citizens answering negative, compared to 46% of those from non-democracies.

Dalia Research acknowledges that “citizens in democratic societies might be inherently more critical of their government than those living in non-democratic societies”, but says “perception is often as important as reality”.

“Right now the biggest risk for democracies is that the public no longer sees them as democratic,” says Nico Jaspers, chief executive of the company.

Public attitudes toward democracy, “have soured over time”, admits The Washington Post. “Citizens, especially millennials, have less faith in the democratic system. They are more likely to express hostile views of democracy. And they vote for anti-establishment parties and candidates that disregard long-standing democratic norms in ever greater numbers.”

A flurry of recent studies support the claim. Only about 30% of Americans born in the 1980s think it’s “essential” to live in a democracy, compared to 75% of Americans born in the 1930s. Long-established democracies such as Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, and Britain report similar discrepancies between age demographics.

In another study of European Millennials cited by Forbes, only 32% selected democracy as one of their five most important social values, and the share of young people who consider democracy a “bad” or “very bad” way to run the US is growing, according to the World Values Survey.

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