The Perception of Democracy Part 1 The Global State of Democracy

Alliance of Democracies, a non-profit organization "dedicated to the advancement of democracy and free markets across the globe" has recently released the 2021 edition of its annual Democracy Perception Index (DPI), the world's largest study on how people perceive democracy.  The results of the study are based on interviews with 53,000 respondents from 53 nations conducted between February 24, 2021 and April 14, 2021.  From the perspective of the respondents, the study looks at the current state of democracy, the biggest threats to democracy in each nation and how the respondents assessed their government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it impacted democracy.  In the first part of this two-part posting, we'll look at the current state of democracy followed by a second posting which will examine the key threats to democracy.

Let's start by looking at the current state of democracy.  Across the 53 nations in the study, an average of 81 percent of respondents stated that democracy is important, ranging from 92 percent in Greece to 62 percent in Japan. Now, let's look at whether people think that their nation is democratic as shown on this graphic:

Only 53 percent of respondents said that their nation was actually democratic with the most democratic nations and least democratic nations scoring as follows:

Most democratic – Denmark – 77 percent, Switzerland – 75 percent, Norway – 71 percent

Least democratic – Venezuela – 25 percent, Iran – 28 percent, Hungary – 30 percent

The study also looked at the perceived democratic deficit, the difference between how important people felt that democracy is and how democratic they believe that their nation is.  Here are the scores for some key nations:

Switzerland – 9 (lowest deficit among the 53 nations)

Norway – 10

Taiwan – 12

Japan – 13

India – 14

Canada – 14

China – 14

Saudi Arabia – 18

United Kingdom – 21

Germany – 21

Hong Kong – 24

United States – 28

Russia – 33

Israel – 35

Italy – 37

Brazil – 40

Turkey – 45

Poland – 55 (highest deficit among the 53 nations)

Isn't it interesting to see that China scored very highly when it came to the perceived democratic deficit, right up there with Canada and Japan.  As well, both China and Saudi Arabia scored better than the United States when measuring the difference between how important democracy is to the respondents and their actual perception of democracy.

On an overall basis, across the 53 nations in the study, 40 percent of people felt that there was not enough democracy in their nation, 46 percent felt that there is the right amount of democracy in their nation and 14 percent said there was too much democracy in their nation.  Here is a graphic showing each sentiment:

Interestingly, the study found that 33 percent of respondents from Saudi Arabia felt that there was too much democracy in their nation followed by Pakistan at 27 percent, Philippines at 26 percent, India at 24 percent and Taiwan at 23 percent (the top five).

When looking at whether or not governments usually act in the best interests of their citizens, on average, 49 percent of respondents stated that their government served only a minority of its citizens.  Here is a graphic showing the percentage of respondents who believed that their government served only a "small group of people" (pink coloured nations):

The study also found that the percentage of respondents in almost all nations who believed that their governments acted to benefit a minority of its citizens was up from the previous year.  The highest scores were found in Peru (21 percentage point increase, Greece (17 percentage point increase), Argentina (15 percentage point increase) and Austria (13 percentage point increase).   

Let's close this posting by looking at the state of democracy in the world's "model" democracy, the United States.  Here are some key figures which compare the results from 2020 to those of 2021:

Faith in democracy – 2020 – 73 percent, 2021 – 77 percent

Not enough democracy – 2020 – 36 percent, 2021 – 45 percent

Act to benefit a minority – 2020 – 52 percent, 2021, 59 percent

The results of the study by the Alliance of Democracies clearly shows that a substantial portion of citizens in many nations believe that their political system is becoming increasingly less democratic and is  increasingly functioning to support the needs of a minority of their peers.  In the second part of this posting, we'll examine the greatest threats to democracy, some of which you may find surprising.

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