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Survey confirms global support for democracy but also gives cause for concern

Large majority supports democracy in 38-nation survey

The Pew Research Centre recently published the results of a 38-nation survey on global attitudes to democracy. According to the study, “there are reasons for calm as well as concern when it comes to democracy’s future.” While on average 78% of those sampled supported representative democracy as a means of government, only 17% opposed it. South America and Russia are the only world regions in which representative democracy had less than 70% support.

78% support representative democracy

However, the survey also reveals that large numbers in many nations would entertain political systems that are inconsistent with liberal democracy. Rule by the military” and “rule by a strong leader” on average enjoyed 24% and 26% support respectively. Those surveyed were more divided on the matter of “rule of experts”, with 49% in support, and 46% in opposition. Direct democracy, in which citizens, rather than elected officials, vote on major issues, enjoyed 66% support among the global sample. The study finds that there is a strong correlation between those who support direct democracy, and those who support populist political parties.

66% support direct democracy

There were more patterns within these levels of support. The report found a strong correlation between “commitment to representative democracy” and levels of wealth, as well as the existing level of democracy in a country. In short, according to this study, those in wealthier and more democratic countries were more committed to the concept of representative democracy. Similarly, the researchers found that there was a correlation between level of education and support for democracy; those with a higher level of education were more likely to support democracy. In the United States, for example, 24% of those with secondary education or less supported military rule, compared with only 7% support among those with higher than secondary education.

Dissatisfaction with democracy’s performance

While the majority of those sampled supported the principle of democracy, they were far more divided over its actual application. On average, 46% said they were satisfied “with the way democracy is working in our country”, while a majority of 52% said they were not. This stresses a widespread desire for a better performance of democratic institutions. Again, this statistic correlated very strongly with the economic performance of a given country, with support higher in more economically prosperous nations, and vice-versa. Notably, the African region showed higher than average levels of satisfaction on this matter, with 60% satisfied and only 38% not satisfied.

Charles Marsh
Charles has a Masters Degree in Global Politics. He worked as the UNPA Campaign's intern in New York in 2018. In 2021, he became a founding Director of Democracy Without Borders-UK.