A new report by the recently established Centre for the Future of Democracy at the University of Cambridge has found that dissatisfaction with democracy has reached an all-time global high. Westminster-style democracies (the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US) typically fare particularly badly in terms of democratic faith, with the proportion of citizens dissatisfied with the performance of their democracy doubling since the 1990s. In the UK, this proportion increased by around a fifth since then.
The global financial and economic crisis and growing within-country regional inequality are of course important factors behind decreasing satisfaction with democracy. But the Centre’s report also suggests that ‘satisfaction with democracy is lower in majoritarian “winner-takes-all” systems than in consensus-based, proportionally representative democracies’. The antagonistic and adversarial mentality inherent in the outdated First Past the Post voting system found in majoritarian, Westminster-style democracies contributes to polarisation and tribalism, making citizens less willing to compromise and to accept the mandate of rival political parties or viewpoints. By contrast, New Zealand is the only Westminster-style democracy to have avoided the trend of ever-increasing public discontent, likely as a result of having introduced a fairer voting system in the 1990s.
These findings highlight the perilous state of our democracy, with ever-deepening citizen dissatisfaction and disengagement
These findings highlight the perilous state of our democracy, with ever-deepening citizen dissatisfaction and disengagement, but sadly they do not come as a surprise. Edelman’s annual trust barometer found that trust in institutions is the lowest it’s ever been in the UK – we’re penultimate in their league table of trust, just one spot ahead of Russia. Similarly, a BMG poll for the ERS in December 2019 found that 85 per cent of people thought democracy could be improved ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’, with 80 per cent of people feeling they have ‘not very much’ or ‘no influence’ over decision-making.
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