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Study: Majorities support global democracy, political parties can benefit

Image source and license: Franzi/Shutterstock

For my doctoral studies at the University of Oxford, I spent the past few years exploring international public opinion on global democracy. My results may be surprising, and – for many people reading this blog – probably encouraging: I find that clear majorities of citizens in Brazil, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States support global democracy. Moreover, my survey experiments reveal that many people would even change their voting decision based on a parties’ position in this respect, for example, by not casting their vote for the party that they usually choose and instead voting for a party that they believe endorses global democracy.

These results indicate that organizations like Democracy Without Borders can count on (at least tacit) support from people in different parts of the world when advocating the idea of a world parliament and a democratic global government.

Let me briefly run you through my doctoral research in a bit more detail. Of course, what follows is just a brief recap. If you are interested in reading more, you can download my dissertation here.

My thesis explores this basic question: To what extent and why do people want the world to be governed democratically – or not?

Measuring public opinion on global democracy

I begin by creating a novel theoretical framework on public opinion toward global democracy. It starts with potential genetic and socio-environmental influences such as parents and peers, moves to proximate motives like cosmopolitan values and interests, and covers conditioning factors such as political knowledge and feasibility beliefs (see Figure 1). These are connected to individual attitudes and actions on global democracy which is conceptualized as a directly elected world parliament and a global government focused on transnational issues such as world poverty and climate change.

Figure 1: Theoretical framework on global democracy attitudes and actions

In order to evaluate various hypotheses based on this framework, I conducted survey experiments on nationwide samples of citizens in the five countries mentioned above: Brazil, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These samples were reweighted to approximate national representativeness.

My key findings are: First, even though (as expected) most people in the five survey countries had never thought about global democracy before, clear majorities in all of them support global democracy once the proposal is considered. Here is the data summarizing this result:

Figure 2: Attitudes toward global democracy including a world parliament and government

Second, my statistical analyses reveal that individual attitudes toward global democracy are significantly associated with people’s values and interests, especially the perceived necessity of global democracy to address problems like international peace and climate change, as well as the supposed importance of public participation in world politics (see Table 18, starting on page 342 of my thesis).

Impact on voting intentions

For the second part of my dissertation, I look at potential interrelationships between individual preferences for political parties and people’s global democracy attitudes and actions. In countries with a stable system of established major parties (here Japan, the UK, and the US), I find that global democracy attitudes are more affected by cues from people’s preferred parties.

In rather fluid multi-party systems (here Brazil and Germany) people’s global democracy attitudes tend to affect their voting intentions – a finding that has significant implications for domestic politics. Let me elaborate on this.

In all selected countries, I conducted a randomized survey experiment: While the control group did not get any information about the supposed global democracy views of their national political parties, one of my treatment groups in each country was shown supposed global democracy positions of all major political parties in their respective country. In Germany, for example, the treatment group saw what follows in Figure 3 below. (Of course, in line with accepted research ethics, I debriefed my respondents later that these positions were fictional.)

Figure 3: Party vignette for Germany

Due to the randomization of respondents into experimental conditions, any differences between these groups observed afterwards must be due to the treatment. This is how we know that the differences between the control and treatment groups shown in Figure 4 below are caused by the parties’ global democracy positions.

Figure 4: Germany – voting intentions across experimental conditions

As you can see, in Germany those two parties that supposedly endorse global democracy – the Greens and the Left – benefitted, gaining nine and three percentage points respectively in terms of voting intentions. Meanwhile, the traditional centrist parties – SPD and CDU – each lost six percentage points due to their supposed opposition to global democracy. All of these differences (except for the CDU-CSU) are statistically significant at conventional levels. In other words, we can be pretty confident that parties’ positions on global democracy would make a difference to citizens’ voting decisions in Germany. All else equal, parties that decide to endorse and promote global democracy can expect to benefit in terms of attracting additional votes. However, so far, global democracy has not featured as an issue in the ongoing campaigns ahead of the federal elections in Germany on 26 September 2021.

Farsan Ghassim
Dr. Farsan Ghassim is the Junior Research Fellow in Politics at The Queen's College, University of Oxford. He previously worked at Bain, the German foreign service, the EU Parliament, and the UN. He holds a DPhil in International Relations (Oxford), an MA in Global Affairs (Yale), and a BSc in Management (LSE).