A new Pew Research Center survey assesses of how democracy is working across the world relying on data from 27 countries, including seven European countries: Hungary, Russia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and the UK. The pollers asked 30,133 people from May 14 to Aug. 12, 2018, about economic, political, social and security issues. Respondents were also asked about the economy, immigration, and political parties. The Europeans received additional questions about immigrants, refugees, and the EU.

The Pew Center concludes that “ideas at the core of liberal democracy remain popular among global publics, but commitment to democracy can nonetheless be weak…Views about the performance of democratic systems are decidedly negative in many nations.“ 51% of those polled are not satisfied with democracy in their country; while just 45% are content with it. Frustration with the political norm is due to many citizens believing that elections bring “little change and that politicians are corrupt and out of touch.” They say that courts do not treat people fairly.

In Europe, the results show that dissatisfaction with democracy is tied to views about the EU, immigrants, and populist parties. More than 60 percent of Swedes and Dutch are satisfied with the current state of democracy. In Italy, Spain and Greece majorities are unhappy with it.

The link between views of the economy and assessments of democratic performance, concluded Pew Center analysts, is very strong. In 24 of 27 countries surveyed, people who say the national economy is in bad shape are more likely than those who say it is in good shape to be dissatisfied with the way democracy is working. In Hungary, for example, 8 of 10 Hungarians who claim that the economy is weak tend to be dissatisfied with the country’s democracy.

Discontent with democracy is also found in people who feel they are treated unfairly by the country’s justice system, say the Pew analysts. Dissatisfaction is particularly common among those who think the statement “the court system treats everyone fairly” does not apply to their country. For example, among Hungarians who offer a negative assessment of the country’s courts, 68% are dissatisfied with democracy. Dissatisfaction is 32% among those who believe the Hungarian courts work without bias.

In 26 nations, unhappiness with democracy is more common among those who do not believe that “elected officials care what ordinary people think.”

Europeans who have a negative view of the EU also tend to be more dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in their countries. The gap is largest in Germany, where those who have an unfavorable opinion of the EU are 43 percentage points more dissatisfied than those with a favorable opinion.

Across the region, concerns about how immigrants fit into society are linked to democratic dissatisfaction. In six European countries, those who think immigrants want to be distinct from society rather than adopting the country’s customs are dissatisfied with democracy. 52% of Swedes who say immigrants want to remain distinct are dissatisfied, compared with just 15% who believe immigrants want to live more like Swedes.

“Anger at the EU and opposition to immigration have been consistent themes in the rhetoric and platforms of many right-wing populist parties that have gained support in the past few years,” says the Pew Center.

The supporters of populist parties also tend to be unhappy with the way their democracies work. Nearly 60% of Swedes who see the Sweden Democrats favorably are dissatisfied with democracy, compared with only 17% of those who don't expressly like the party. The Pew Center also found that 69% of German AfD backers are dissatisfied. The same pattern is found among those who back left-wing parties. For instance, 6 in 10 who have a favorable view of La France Insoumise are dissatisfied with how democracy works.

[Text: Paul Hockenos]