Young people are losing confidence in democracy and have become more receptive to authoritarianism, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing a new study.
The report, "The Democratic Disconnect," looked at the views of older people and younger people in several countries, asking whether they thought democracy was important and if authoritarian rule would be acceptable if elected politicians failed to maintain order.
The researchers discovered that younger people had far less faith in democracy, a trend reflected in the ascent of populist movements in the United States and Europe, which have seen a surge anti-immigrant sentiment in political rhetoric and policy.
Millennials in the United States and Europe appear to be more receptive than their parents to scrapping elections altogether. The survey found that, "14 percent of baby-boomers say that it is 'unimportant' in a democracy for people to 'choose their leaders in free elections...Among millennials, this figure rises to 26 percent.'"
The report appears in the January edition of the Journal of Democracy, and looked at countries where political scientists had assumed democracy and civil rights had won a permanent place in public life.
Harvard professor Yascha Mounk, who co-authored the study, said that the youthful turn against democracy was a global phenomenon, but had recently come to the shores of the US. The white nationalist "Alt Right," whose followers deplore multicultural democracy, see Republican president-elect Donald Trump coming to power as the start of a reactionary revolution.
"Three decades ago, most scholars simply assumed that the Soviet Union would remain stable. This assumption was suddenly proven false. Today, we have even greater confidence in the durability of the world's affluent, consolidated democracies," the authors ask. "But do we have good grounds for our democratic self-confidence?"
Mounk told the Times that his findings should alarm political scientists who have confidence in the durability of democracy, saying that politics had gone beyond the standard policy positions of the left and right.
Instead of there being consensus over democratic institutions and arguments over policy, the question is whether democracy itself is worthwhile. Mounk and his co-author Roberto Stefan Fao say that faith in democracy has declined alongside citizens' faith that the system even represents them.
"Citizens in a number of supposedly consolidated democracies in North America and Western Europe have not only grown more critical of their political leaders. Rather, they have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives. The crisis of democratic legitimacy extends across a much wider set of indicators than previously appreciated," they write.