Democracies are Failing Citizens
Less than one fifth of citizens in 11 leading countries believe their governments are delivering on important democratic promises.
Successful democratic nations provide reliable public services, keep people safe and borders secure, and ensure that legal principles of freedom and equality are upheld for everyone. When democracies fall short on these goals, citizens notice and express their ire either through protests or by voting out parties and leaders. We’ve seen evidence of this displeasure in recent elections in Sweden and Italy where far-right parties made notable gains, and in the dire job marks for incumbent governments in both the United Kingdom and the United States.
Too many democracies are underperforming in the minds of their citizens.
According to brand new research from Global Progress and YouGov, conducted with more than 14,000 respondents in 11 countries in late August and early September, citizens across the world overwhelmingly see their governments as failing to deliver on key democratic promises.
The Global Progress/YouGov survey asked respondents whether they believe their own governments are doing mostly a good job or mostly a bad job on 6 different indicators. As seen in the chart below, less than one fifth of citizens across all these countries feel their own governments are performing well in each of these areas. In contrast, roughly half or more see their government’s performance in a negative light:
61 percent of citizens in leading democratic countries believe their own governments are doing mostly a bad job on “keeping inflation under control.”
53 percent of citizens say their governments are doing mostly a bad job on “providing adequate social services for the elderly, poor, and vulnerable.”
Nearly half of all citizens in these countries also look negatively upon their government’s performance on “ensuring legal equality for all people regardless of income or wealth”; “supporting a strong and growing economy”; “ensuring the availability of good, well-paying jobs for all”; and “providing quality public services.”
As seen in the country breakouts below, negative opinions of government performance are most pronounced in the U.K., France, Italy, and Spain. For example, more than half to three quarters of Brits say their government is doing mostly a bad job on all 6 indicators. Opinions are mostly net negative but less pronounced in countries like Australia and Sweden. And citizens in the United States and Canada hold roughly similar negative views about their respective governments—particularly on inflation and social services for the elderly, poor, and vulnerable.
The increasingly chaotic shifts in global politics—including the rise of far-right voting in Europe and continued support for Donald Trump in the United States—make sense looking at these findings. Citizens just about everywhere are fed up with subpar economic growth, rising inflation, inadequate social provisions, and the low quality of many public services on offer. Add in contentious issues like immigration and culture, and you get a toxic mix of voter discontent ripe for exploitation by certain leaders and movements.
Happy talk about positive economic developments—from leaders on the center left or center right—will not sway voters given this sour mood. Instead, governments that fail to address these rising economic and social concerns will find themselves getting the boot by voters.
The only way to “save democracy” then is to make sure it delivers for people across all regions and income levels. When conditions are tough and people feel ignored, even bad political alternatives start to look better than the status quo.