Navigating Democracy’s Discontent in 2024

Pew Research survey on Democracy: Different types of government

A recent report from the Pew Research Center reveals that while representative democracy remains a popular ideal globally, public satisfaction with its implementation has declined.

The study, published this week, surveyed 24 countries in 2023. It found that majorities in each country still endorse this system of democracy where representatives are elected by the public – a system in place in nearly all Western-style democracies – as a good way to govern. But enthusiasm has waned since 2017 when Pew last conducted such research.

The study’s findings highlight significant criticisms of the way democracy is working:

  • A median of 59% of those surveyed are dissatisfied with how their democracy is functioning.
  • 74% think elected officials don’t care what people like them think.
  • 42% say no political party in their country represents their views.

The study is well worth reading (download the 106-page PDF) if you want to get a good sense of what people think about Western-style democracies and how they work.

It did prompt my thinking about how this might affect or impact voters and behaviours in any of the 80+ countries holding elections in 2024.

Elections on the Edge

Democracy: Vote
Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Some research I did using as the search engine turned up some interesting facts and opinions from a wide variety of sources, some of which I’ve used here (all listed in the citations footnote).

What I take from this research is that the decline in faith in democracy and the upcoming elections in over 80 countries presents a complex scenario with potentially significant impacts on global political stability, governance, and public trust.

This situation is further complicated by the fact that these elections encompass a broad spectrum of political, economic, and social contexts, ranging from established democracies to countries with authoritarian regimes or those undergoing political transitions.

Some potential impacts:

1. Erosion of Trust in Democratic Institutions

The Pew Research report indicates a global dissatisfaction with how democracy is functioning, with a median of 59% of respondents across 24 countries expressing dissatisfaction 2. This disillusionment can lead to an erosion of trust in democratic institutions, potentially undermining their legitimacy and effectiveness. When citizens lose faith in the electoral process and democratic governance, it can result in decreased voter turnout, increased political apathy, and a susceptibility to populist and authoritarian appeals 2 3.

2. Increased Political Polarization

The decline in faith in democracy is often accompanied by increased political polarization, as seen in the dissatisfaction among different demographic groups, particularly among the youth 3. This polarization can manifest in more contentious and divisive political discourse, making it challenging to form stable governments and achieve consensus on critical policy issues. In countries like Belgium, where coalition negotiations are notoriously lengthy, such polarization could exacerbate governance challenges 1.

3. Rise of Populist and Authoritarian Leaders

Dissatisfaction with democracy has been linked to the rise of populist and authoritarian leaders who promise to address the perceived failures of the democratic status quo 2 3. These leaders often capitalize on public discontent by presenting themselves as alternatives to the traditional political elite. While some young people express greater satisfaction with democracy under populist regimes, this trend raises concerns about the long-term health of democratic institutions and the potential for undermining checks and balances, human rights, and the rule of law 3.

4. Impact on Policy and Governance

The decline in faith in democracy and the resulting political dynamics can significantly impact policy and governance. Governments may adopt short-term, populist policies to appease dissatisfied voters rather than pursuing long-term, sustainable solutions to complex issues like economic inequality, climate change, and social justice 3. Additionally, in countries facing significant economic and social challenges, such as Venezuela, the lack of faith in democracy could exacerbate existing crises and hinder effective governance 1.

5. Global Implications

Given the interconnectedness of the global political landscape, the decline in faith in democracy in numerous countries could have broader implications for international relations, trade, and security 4. For instance, elections in geopolitically significant countries like the United States, India, and Mexico not only have domestic implications but also affect global geopolitics, economic stability, and international collaborations on issues like climate change and security 4.

In Conclusion…

The decline in faith in democracy across many countries, coinciding with a significant number of elections in 2024, presents a critical juncture for the global community. It underscores the need for democratic reforms that address public grievances, enhance the inclusivity and effectiveness of democratic institutions, and rebuild trust in the democratic process.

What can you do that would demonstrate your support of and belief in democracy? Where you can, vote – a good way to offer a pathway towards renewing democratic faith and strengthening democratic governance in your part of the world.

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