Global Public Opinion in an Era of Democratic Anxiety
Published by The Pew Charitable Trusts from Richard Wike & Janell Fetterolf on May 22, 2022
“The future of liberal democracy has come into question.”
As democratic nations have wrestled with economic, social, and geopolitical upheaval in recent years, the future of liberal democracy has come into question.
In countries across the globe, democratic norms and civil liberties have deteriorated, while populists have enjoyed surprising success at the ballot box. Newly democratic nations have struggled while more-established, once self-assured democracies have stumbled, exposing long-simmering weaknesses in their social fabrics and institutional designs.
These trends have been well-documented by organizations such as the Economist Intelligence Unit, Freedom House, International IDEA, and the Varieties of Democracy project, which measure and track the quality of democracy around the world. Public opinion researchers have also focused on these issues by examining how citizens think about democracy and its alternatives. At the Pew Research Center, we’ve applied a comparative, cross-national lens to explore global trends in attitudes toward political representation and individual rights.
Our international surveys reveal four key insights into how citizens think about democratic governance: For many, democracy is not delivering; people like democracy, but their commitment to it is often not very strong; political and social divisions are amplifying the challenges of contemporary democracy; and people want a stronger public voice in politics and policymaking.
For many, democracy is not delivering
In part, the current moment of anxiety about liberal democracy is linked to frustration with how democratic societies are functioning. Pew Research Center surveys have consistently found large shares of the public in many countries saying they are dissatisfied with the way their democracy is working. And for many, this dissatisfaction is leading to a desire for political change. A median of 56% across 17 advanced economies surveyed in 2021 say their political system needs major changes or needs to be completely reformed. Roughly two-thirds or more express this opinion in Italy, Spain, the U.S., South Korea, Greece, France, Belgium, and Japan.
Even where the demand for significant political reform is relatively low, substantial minorities want at least minor changes. In all of the publics surveyed, fewer than 3 in 10 say the political system should not be changed at all.