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.
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:
- citizens’ express support for the system as a whole;
- the degree to which they support key institutions of liberal democracy, such as civil rights;
- their willingness to advance their political causes within the existing political system; and
- 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.