It’s a depressing time for democrats. Russia, run by dictator Putin, is attacking the fledgling democracy of Ukraine. Orban, who destroyed the pluralist democracy of Hungary, was reelected. In the UK the government is in the process of rigging elections in its favour, and giving itself powers to lock up anyone who demonstrates for up to 10 years. The mid-terms in the US seem set to see the advance of a Republican party that shows little respect for democracy when it loses. Those that chart these things (e.g. here or here) find more countries moving in an authoritarian direction than in a democratic direction.
Alongside the global movement towards authoritarian regimes is a growing dissatisfaction with democracy by people in democratic states. This is clearly tracked in this report from the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at Cambridge. As the charts in the report clearly show, globally this rise in dissatisfaction began during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), and is clearest in established democracies rather than developing democracies. The United States shows this pattern clearly:
Perhaps surprisingly, the UK does not follow this pattern, in that satisfaction recovered from the dip during the GFC, but has increased substantially during the Brexit implementation period.
Of course there are many ways of interpreting these results. It could simply represent a reaction to bad times (as the rise since the GFC suggests), a reaction to the particular democratic system in place (e,g, first past the post), or a preference for some non-democratic alternative. Here a 2017 Pew survey is interesting.
The support for representative democracy is strong, and far outweighs rule by a strong leader or by the military. Reported dissatisfaction with democracy seems in part to be expressing a dislike or distrust of current politicians rather than democracy itself. For example a very recent YouGov poll showed that among every age group, when people responding to a question of whether “democracy in Britain as a whole addresses the interests of people like you” either well as badly, more thought badly rather than well, although it was close for the 65+ group.
Questions about how satisfied people are about democracy, or how they feel about politicians, may do little more than tell you how they feel about the political party in power, rather than the democratic system itself. Another 2019 Pew analysis found that in France, 85% of those who support President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party are satisfied with democracy, compared with 34% of those who do not support it. How people feel about the political party in power may in turn depend on major events, like the GFC.
Which brings us to the French presidential elections, and the rise in popularity of the far right. Latest results suggest Le Pen won 23.4% of the vote in the first round, compared to Macron’s 27.6%. That means that Macron and Le Pen will compete in the final poll on 24th April. Opinion polls conducted before the first round suggest that, unlike last time when Macron beat Le Pen easily, this time it will be a close race, although Macron’s first round showing is a little better than pollssuggested.