REFERENCE 2 Mar, 2020

Many Europeans Unhappy With Their Democracies

Global numbers show that they’re not alone

REFERENCE Many Europeans Unhappy With Their Democracies

The election of anti-establishment candidates in democracies across the globe is evidence that large shares of citizens just about everywhere have grown dissatisfied with their political systems. A new Pew Research Center survey, based on research in 34 countries, shows with convincing empirical data that many people worldwide feel that their democratic systems are not run with the interests of the demos at the fore. (The survey includes a handful of excellent graphics, as most Pew surveys do.) Surprisingly, in Europe it is the eastern Europeans who are more likely to say that their state is run in the interests of all citizens.

Nevertheless, despite the griping, most don’t want to abandon democracy. Two-thirds concede that “voting gives people like them some say about how the government is run.”

The survey’s main findings are that, globally, only 44% of the respondents -- all from democratic states, including Russia and Kenya -- express satisfaction with how democracy is working in their country, while 52% say they are unhappy with it. A full 64% feel that "elected officials do not care what people like them think.”

Breaking this down, Europeans fall somewhere in the middle of the global pack, though there are wide differences among the Europeans themselves. The 49% of Europeans surveyed who are satisfied with democracy is higher than in the US (39%) but much lower than in Canada (66%) and India (70%). Within Europe, the Swedes (72%), the Dutch (68%), the Poles (66%) and the Germans (65%) are most content – and on a par, roughly, with Canada and India. But Greeks (26%), Bulgarians (27%) and the British (31%) are markedly less pleased with the way democracy is working in their countries. Russian and Ukraine, for some reason not considered “Europeans” by the Pew Center, fell toward the bottom end of the other (mostly EU) Europeans with 30% and 34%, respectively, signaling widespread satisfaction with their democracies.  

A finding that is hard to explain – so much so that is should be taken with a grain of salt – is that the EU’s Central European states – Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland – are all atop the survey asking whether “the state is run for the benefit of all.”

In fact, all of these countries corruption, graft, and clientelism is rampant in the highest offices. Just last weekend (March 29), Slovaks voted the long-ruling SMER government out of office and cast most of the establishment parties out from the parliament in what was widely interpreted as a resounding condemnation of the political elite. The party of an anti-corruption campaigner took the vote in an election campaign in which the corruption of the political class was the number one topic. The opposition parties charged that the political and business elite had captured the state. How then does one explain that more Slovaks (88%) than any other EU nation say “the state is run for the benefit of all”?