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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Democratic Decline

At The Journal of DemocracyRoberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk examine disturbing data from the World Values Survey:
How much importance do citizens of developed countries ascribe to living in a democracy? Among older generations, the devotion to democracy is about as fervent and widespread as one might expect: In the United States, for example, people born during the interwar period consider democratic governance an almost sacred value. When asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how “essential” it is for them “to live in a democracy,” 72 percent of those born before World War II check “10,” the highest value. So do 55 percent of the same cohort in the Netherlands. But, as Figure 1 shows, the millennial generation (those born since 1980) has grown much more indifferent. Only one in three Dutch millennials accords maximal importance to living in a democracy; in the United States, that number is slightly lower, around 30 percent.

Any minimally liberal understanding of representative democracy needs to encompass the notion that elections should be free and fair. So it is disquieting that in mature  democracies such an interpretation of democracy, though still endorsed by a clear majority of the population, is weaker among younger voters. In the United States, for example, only 10 percent of citizens born in the interwar years and 14 percent of baby-boomers say that it is “unimportant” in a democracy for people to “choose their leaders in free elections” (with “unimportant” defined as 1 to 5 on a 10-point scale of importance). Among millennials, this figure rises to 26 percent.