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For many, democracy is not delivering, global survey finds

  • 8 Dec 2021

Pew Research Center finds a large majority in democratic countries say the health of their democracy has declined and governments no longer work for the benefit of the population.

Citizens around the world express a desire for political change ( Sarah Silbiger / Reuters )

An increasing number of people worldwide are unsatisfied with democracy and want a stronger public voice in politics and policymaking, a Pew Research Center survey released on Tuesday shows. 

The international survey revealed that people believe democracy is not delivering and that commitment to it is often not very strong. It also saw that political and social division have increased the challenges of contemporary democracy. 

A median of 56 percent of people across 17 advanced economies, including the United States, surveyed this spring by Pew Research Center say their political system needs to be completely reformed. Countries surveyed included Italy, Spain, South Korea, Greece, France, Belgium and Japan. 

This discontent is tied to many factors, including economic performance, governmental competence and the overall fairness of the political and economic system.

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“Our research over time has shown that when people think their countries are performing poorly on these dimensions, confidence in democracy often slips,” Pew’s report said. 

In many advanced economies, recent trends from Pew surveys show that an increasing number of the public views diversity as a strength of their society. 

In Greece for example, the number who say having people of many racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds makes their country a better place to live doubled between 2017 and 2021.

During the same period, favourable views of diversity increased by about 10 percentage points more in Japan, the Netherlands, the UK and Spain, according to Pew’s report. 

However, despite more people welcoming diversity, a median of 67 percent across the same 17 countries say racial and ethnic discrimination is a serious challenge where they live. 

Roughly three in ten, or more in Germany, Spain, the UK, Greece, France, the US and Italy, say it is a very serious problem in their country.

The idea of direct democracy where citizens vote directly on what does or does not become a law is also becoming popular with 66 percent of respondents in the 2017 Pew survey saying it was an effective method of government, compared with 30 percent who opposed it.

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Highlighting the importance of voice, Pew’s analysis showed people in Australia and the UK spoke of the need for citizens to have a voice in government. Many described democracy as a system in which citizens have strong influence on decisions. 

“Everyone in their country of residence, including myself, deserves our views to be listened to and acted upon,” one woman from the UK said.

Although it will be difficult to reverse the negative trends regarding the health of democracy around the world, Pew's research suggests that ordinary citizens want a voice and a stronger role for them in making decisions about the issues that shape their lives. 

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