Since 1995, the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Future of Democracy has gauged people’s views on democracy. Their most recent report, spanning 154 nations, reveals some of the highest levels of discontent since records began.
“We find that dissatisfaction with democracy has risen over time and is reaching an all-time global high, in particular in developed countries,” said the report’s author, Dr Roberto Foa.
Global democratic malaise
In the mid-nineties, countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia seemed to be relatively satisfied with their democracies. Since then, the proportion of people expressing dissatisfaction has risen from 47.9% to 57.5%.
2019 was "the highest level of democratic discontent" since 1995, based on findings in first report from @BennettInst's new Centre for the Future of Democracy: https://t.co/QsVd77ZHUG @Dept_of_POLIS #democracy
— Cambridge University (@Cambridge_Uni) January 29, 2020
Some of the world’s largest democratic countries, such as the United States and Brazil, are experiencing the highest levels of dissatisfaction, with Mexico, Australia and the United Kingdom seeing their highest level of dissatisfaction on record. Japan, Greece and Spain are also inching closer to all-time highs.
‘Islands of contentment’
However, not all hope is lost. People in some countries – primarily small, high-income democracies like Denmark, Switzerland and Norway – are showing great confidence in their democratic institutions.
These countries form part of the so-called “Island of Contentment” – a small subset of nations, accounting for just 2% of the world’s population, where less than a quarter of the citizenry express dissatisfaction with democracy.
Shock and awe
While the report demonstrates a marked increase in dissatisfaction, it doesn’t conclude why. However, 25 years of data does point to a correlation between levels of dissatisfaction and large-scale events such as economic shocks and political scandals.
Events leading up to the current all-time high include the start of the refugee crisis in Europe, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
The future of democracy?
Voters falling out of love with democracy was one of the talking points at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.
In the Davos session Democratic Capitalism: Dead End or Shared Destiny? participants discussed the way forward for capitalist democracies.