New research reveals the people guilty of wrecking America!

Summary: This is the scariest thing you’ll read this year. For a decade, since 4 July 2006, I’ve warned that the Republic was dying from our neglect — that the Constitution has died in our hearts (the only place it lived). Surveys, such as Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions poll, showed the rot. Now a larger survey reveals that the very foundation of the Republic is washing away while we remain complacent and self-congratulatory. See the For More Info section for ideas what to do about this.

Our burning constitution

The Danger of Deconsolidation: The Democratic Disconnect.”

By Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk
In the Journal of Democracy, July 2016.

Read the full paper. Here is an excerpt. Headers and red emphasis added.


“The citizens of wealthy, established democracies are less satisfied with their governments than they have been at any time since opinion polling began. Most scholars have interpreted this as a sign of dissatisfaction with particular governments rather than with the political system as a whole. Drawing on recent public opinion data, we suggest that this optimistic interpretation is no longer plausible. Across a wide sample of countries in North America and Western Europe, citizens of mature democracies have become markedly less satisfied with their form of government and surprisingly open to nondemocratic alternatives. A serious democratic disconnect has emerged. If it widens even further, it may begin to challenge the stability of seemingly consolidated democracies.


The difficulty of predicting social change

“For four decades, Die Welt, one of West Germany’s leading newspapers, refused to acknowledge the existence of an East German state. Since the paper’s editors expected the communist regime to collapse within a matter of years, they put scare quotes around its initials whenever they discussed the German Democratic Republic (GDR). While other papers reported about the policies pursued by the GDR, Die Weltun failingly wrote about the “GDR.”

“Sometime in the summer of 1989, the paper’s leadership finally decided to give up on the pretense that the East German regime was on theverge of collapse. The communists had been in power for so long, and seemed so well-entrenched, that the scare quotes had become an embarrassing denial of reality. On 2 August 1989, reporters were allowed to drop the scare quotes when writing a bout the GDR for the first time in the paper’s history. Three months later, the Berlin Wall fell. On 3 October 1990, the GDR ceased to exist.

“The editors of Die Welt radically misjudged the signs of the times. At precisely the moment when they should have realized that support for the communist regime was dwindling, they finally reconciled themselves to its durability. They were hardly alone. The collective failure of social scientists, policy makers, and journalists to take seriously the greater confidence in the durability of the world’s affluent, consolidated democracies.

“But do we have good grounds for our democratic self-confidence? At first sight, there would seem to be some reason for concern. Over the last three decades, trust in political institutions such as parliaments or the courts has precipitously declined across the established democracies of North America and Western Europe. So has voter turnout. As party identification has weakened and party membership has declined, citizens have become less willing to stick with establishment parties. Instead, voters increasingly endorse single-issue movements, vote for populist candidates, or support “antisystem” parties that define themselves in opposition to the status quo. Even in some of the richest and most politically stable regions of the world, it seems as though democracy is in a state of serious disrepair.

“Most political scientists, however, have steadfastly declined to view these trends as an indication of structural problems in the functioning of liberal democracy, much less as a threat to its very existence. …

“In our view, however, this optimistic interpretation may no longer be tenable. Drawing on data from Waves 3 through 6 of the World Values Surveys (1995–2014), we look at four important types of measures that are clear indicators of regime legitimacy as opposed to government legitimacy:

  1. citizens’ express support for the system as a whole;
  2. the degree to which they support key institutions of liberal democracy, such as civil rights;
  3. their willingness to advance their political causes within the existing political system; and
  4. their openness to authoritarian alternatives such as military rule.

“What we find is deeply concerning. Citizens in a number of supposedly consolidated democracies in North America and Western Europe have not only grown more critical of their political leaders. Rather, they have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives. The crisis of democratic legitimacy extends across a much wider set of indicators than previously appreciated.

(1) Citizens’ support for the system.

Foa-Mounk 2016 - Figure 1
Bootstrap 95% confidence intervals are shown in gray.

“The decline in support for democracy is not just a story of the young being more critical than the old; it is, in the language of survey research, owed to a “cohort” effect rather than an “age” effect. Back in 1995, for example, only 16% of Americans born in the 1970s (then in their late teens or early twenties) believed that democracy was a “bad” political system for their country. Twenty years later, the number of “antidemocrats” in this same generational cohort had increased by around 4 percentage points, to 2%. The next cohort — comprising those born in the 1980s — is even more antidemocratic: In 2011, 24% of U.S. millennials (then in their late teens or early twenties) considered democracy to be a “bad” or “very bad” way of running the country. …(see Figure 2).

“Public-opinion data thus suggest a significant generational reversal. Not so long ago, young people were much more enthusiastic than older people about democratic values: In the first waves of the World Values Survey, in 1981–84 and 1990–93, young respondents were much keener than their elders on protecting freedom of speech and significantly less likely to embrace political radicalism. Today, the roles have reversed: On the whole, support for political radicalism in North America and Western Europe is higher among the young, and support for freedom of speech lower.

(2)  Their support for key institutions of liberal democracy.

Foa-Mounk 2016 - Figure 2

“…a liberal conception of democracy is somewhat less entrenched among millenials (born since the 1980s) than their baby-boomer parents (born during the first two decades after the Second World War). In the United States, for example, 41% of those born during the interwar and initial postwar decades state that it is “absolutely essential” in a democracy that “civil rights protect people’s liberty.” Among millennials, this share falls to 32%.

“…In the United States, for example, only 10%  of citizens born in the interwar years and 14% 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%. …

(3) Their willingness to work for their political causes within the political system.

“Since the 1960s, voter turnout has fallen and political-party membership has plummeted in virtually all established democracies. Just as younger generations are less committed to the importance of democracy, so too are they less likely to be politically engaged. In fact, in both Western Europe and North America, interest in politics has rapidly and markedly declined among the young.…

“{In 1990, 53% of young Americans (those between the ages of 16 and 35) …reported being “fairly interested” or “very interested” in politics…. By 2010, the share of young Americans
professing an interest in politics had dropped by more than 12 percentage points…

“In both advanced and emerging democracies, the generation that came of age during the 1960s withdrew from traditional forms of political engagement, such as joining political parties and voting. This trend has continued, with millennials even less likely than their parents to participate in the democratic system via formal institutions. …

(4)  Their openness to authoritarian alternatives, such as military rule.

Foa-Mounk 2016 - Figure 4

“In the past three decades, the share of U.S. citizens who think that it would be a “good” or “very good” thing for the “army to rule” — a patently undemocratic stance — has steadily risen. In 1995, just one in sixteen respondents agreed with that position; today, one in six agree. While those who hold this view remain in the minority, they can no longer be dismissed as a small fringe, especially since there have been similar increases in the number of those who favor a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliament and elections” and those who want experts rather than the government to “take decisions” for the country. Nor is the United States the only country to exhibit this trend. …

“Similarly, while 43% of older Americans, including those born between the world wars and their baby-boomer children, do not believe that it is legitimate in a democracy for the military to take over when the government is incompetent or failing to do its job, the figure among millennials is much lower at 19%. In Europe, the generation gap is somewhat less stark but equally clear, with 53% of older Europeans and only 36% of millennials strongly rejecting the notion that a government’s incompetence can justify having the army “take over.”

“Strikingly, such undemocratic sentiments have risen especially quickly among the wealthy. In 1995, the “rich” (defined as deciles 8 to 10 on a ten-point income scale) were the most opposed to undemocratic viewpoints, such as the suggestion that their country would be better off if the “army” ruled. Lower-income respondents (defined as deciles 1 to 5) were most in favor of such a proposition. Since then, relative support for undemocratic institutions has reversed. In almost every region, the rich are now more likely than the poor to express approval for “having the army rule.” In the United States, for example, only 5% of upper- income citizens thought that army rule was a “good” or “very good” idea in the mid-1990s. That figure has since risen to 16%. …

“Yet it is consistent with similar survey items that measure citizens’ openness to other authoritarian alternatives. In the United States, among all age cohorts, the share of citizens who believe that it would be better to have a “strong leader” who does not have to “bother with parliament and elections” has also risen over time: In 1995, 24% of respondents held this view; by 2011, that figure had increased to 32%.

“Meanwhile, the proportion of citizens who approve of “having experts, not government, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country” has grown from 36 to 49%. One reason for these changes is that whereas two decades ago affluent citizens were much more likely than people of lower income groups to defend democratic institutions, the wealthy are now moderately more likely than others to favor a strong leader who can ignore democratic institutions (see Figure 4 below).

“Remarkably, the trend toward openness to nondemocratic alternatives is especially strong among citizens who are both young and rich. Returning to the question of approval for military rule, in 1995 only 6% of rich young Americans (those born since 1970) believed that it would be a “good” thing for the army to take over; today, this view is held by 35% of rich young Americans. …


“If we take the number of people who claim to endorse democracy at face value, no regime type in the history of mankind has held such universal and global appeal as democracy does today. Yet the reality of contemporary democracies looks rather less triumphant than this fact might suggest. Citizens of democracies are less and less content with their institutions; they are more and more willing to jettison institutions and norms that have traditionally been regarded as central components of democracy; and they are increasingly attracted to alternative regime forms.

“Far from showing that citizens have merely become more willing to criticize particular governments because their expectations of democracy have grown, this indicates a deep tension at the heart of contemporary politics: Even as democracy has come to be the only form of government widely viewed as legitimate, it has lost the trust of many citizens who no longer believe that democracy can deliver on their most pressing needs and preferences. The optimistic view that this decline in confidence merely represents a temporary downturn is no more than a pleasing assumption, based in part on a reluctance to call into question the vaunted stability of affluent democracies.

“Democracies do not die overnight, nor do democracies that have begun to deconsolidate necessarily fail. But we suspect that the degree of democratic consolidation is one of the most important factors in determining the likelihood of democratic breakdown. In a world where most citizens fervently support democracy, where antisystem parties are marginal or nonexistent, and where major political forces respect the rules of the political game, democratic breakdown is extremely unlikely. It is no longer certain, however, that this is the world we live in.”


Roberto Foa
………………………Roberto Stefan Foa .
Yascha Mounk
………………………………………..Yascha Mounk.

About the authors

Roberto Stefan Foa is a lecturer in politics at the University of Melbourne, a principal investigator of the World Values Survey, and a fellow of the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research. See his website for his C.V. and links to his work.

Yascha Mounk is a Lecturer on Political Theory at Harvard, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy of the German Marshall Fund, and a Nonresident Fellow at New America’s Political Reform Program. See his website. His essays have appeared in Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

See their follow-up paper: “The Signs of Deconsolidation” in the January 2017 Journal of Democracy.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about politics in America, reforming America: steps to new politics, and especially these…

  1. Important: Forecast: Death of the American Constitution.
  2. Gallup warns us to prepare for fascism!
  3. Scary lessons for America from pre-revolutionary France.
  4. Advice from a sage about America and its future. Listen to this man. — Alexis de Tocqueville.
  5. Americans trust the military most. 29% are ready for a coup. Ready for fascism?
  6. America isn’t falling like the Roman Empire. It’s falling like Rome’s Republic.

Recommended books about the Republic.

Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism by Wolfgang Streeck.

Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred by John Lukacs.

Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism
Available at Amazon.
Democracy and Populism
Available at Amazon.

11 thoughts on “New research reveals the people guilty of wrecking America!”

  1. Reblogged this on Centinel2012 and commented:
    This is very scary but also believable and as predicted in the 1997 book “The Fourth Turning” which i read shortly after being published and never believed until about 12 years ago when what the authors predicted start to come true.

  2. Fascinating but let’s not act too surprised.
    “Even as democracy has come to be the only form of government widely viewed as legitimate, it has lost the trust of many citizens who no longer believe that democracy can deliver on their most pressing needs and preferences,”
    ….reliability, truth, ability or character….Trust.
    A perceptual and predictable issue.
    So? Surprised?


  3. A very real and important question that arises after the acceptance of your Posts in this regards and this Study is: how is the person to act in the face of these trends? What is the best guiding idea to live a good life in the reality of a decline as described? The moral and ethical things that always present themselves in an interconnected society as all humans rely upon.


  4. I wonder how much of the fall of popularity of democracy can be associated with the rise in its implementation rate. If you were to compare a list of countries in 1955 that had a respectable claim to be implementing democratic methods with a similar list from 2015, you’d see that democracy claims to be implemented nearly everywhere. That gives us a much smaller sample of bad examples (North Korea!) to compare our system against.

    Another likely cause is the reduction of teaching the value of civics in High School. Comparing my civics class with that of my children is a sad experience, they hardly had an introduction while I had a full semester. I made up the gap but not every parent has the time or the inclination to do so.

    Regardless of the causes, your analysis is correct, FM. But I agree with Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Let us strive to not give the other forms of government a try!

  5. Our educational system has been salted with ever increasing levels of statist authoritarianism, that’s what has brought us to the straights we’re in. Scatterbrained citizens are primarily victims of the quality of state mandated educations. The state has been inducing fear and uncertainty into the citizenry for too long. While it makes them docile and easier to lead, it robs them of rational civic cognition.

    1. Patrick,

      You might be right about the cause of our passivity and disinterest in bearing the burden of citizenship. “Why” is usually the most difficult of questions to answer. Unfortunately, understanding causes — accurate diagnosis — is usually essential for effective treatment.

      Your theory does not seem plausible to me. But I have nothing — zip, nada — to offer as an alternative theory.

  6. As Breton says, no surprise here. Simply too long since hardship events kept us aware of just how bad things can get in comparison, and how much effort it takes to keep the dark side of human nature at bay. As fish don’t even think of the water they swim in, younger generations don’t realize the societal institutions and infrastructure in place that affords them the luxury to consider other options as reasonable.

    Also, my generation has done poorly at passing on how to “do” democracy, and the knowledge of how tenuous the hold can be on just and stable societies.

    Another interpretation of the report is that democracy as it is being practiced is what really is in question. As each slice of the pie gets smaller, and equitable distribution is not happening, it is easy to understand the dissatisfaction being indicated. Political engagement through other means is happening more recently, and will probably increase.

    1. Steve,

      Nicely said.

      I don’t understand the causes of our apathy and passivity. But then “why” is often the most difficult of questions. But I don’t believe we need a deeper diagnosis of our problems than attributing them to us. That points to the cure and the people responsible for making it happen. The next step is the big one: what is the first step forward?

  7. I am still playing “catch up” on your older articles. Your analysis strikes me as reasonably accurate and I appreciate the supporting historical background.

    I would like to suggest two reasons for the “why” of citizen apathy and passivity. First, the watered down media analysis they are spoon fed about politics. Second, the global political takeover of the top tenth of a percent. American and European political systems no longer concern themselves with the consent of the governed. Political elites serve their corporate Masters and the corporate media cover their tracks. Being an informed citizen and digging through the media information smog is hard work.

    The likes of Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum carry elitest water with “plausible” rationalizations of political events. They are as much a part of Matt Taibbi’s Vampire Squid as Jamie Dimon.

    America is hearing thunder on the right and thunder on the left from Grass Roots populists ineffectually expressing their discontent. They are being ignored by the political elites from both legacy parties.

    Some left wing groups that slumbered through the Obama years are getting traction against the Repulican healthcare debacle. Right wing populists still think Trump has their back. He’s an accomplished carnival barker.

    The support for military leadership was pretty shocking. Thanks for the link to the New America Political Reform site. Pretty sharp fellas over there.

    1. Boatwright,

      Thanks for your thoughts on the matter. Still, I don’t understand why either results in citizen apathy.

      “the watered down media analysis they are spoon fed about politic”

      That implies that our view of America and its government are formed more by the media than the experiences of those we know, what we see and experience. I doubt that.

      “the global political takeover of the top tenth of a percent. American and European political systems no longer concern themselves with the consent of the governed.”

      I can’t speak for Europe, but that’s false in America. The political machinery of America remains idle without our participation, but it remains powerful should we decide to work it. They know that.

      Also — I hear passivity and defeatism everywhere. Just this weak I spoke with a group of retired military officers (Major to Colonel) about military reform. They all agreed that this was imperative; all were uninterested in working for it. Too difficult. I spoke with a group of politically aware leftists. They were like lost sheep, passive and spiritless.

      The other common element in both: reliance on dreams. Eventually the great day will come with the (crash or revolt) and the great Jesus-figure leader will come and right all wrongs. Pitiful. Bot disturbing that both Left and Right feel the same way.

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