Election 2020

Pew Findings Suggest Waning Support for U.S.-Model Democracy

Voters in New York City cast ballots on Nov. 8, 2016. (Monica Jorge/Sipa via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – New findings from the Pew Research Center suggests that the world is moving away from the belief that U.S. democracy is the best model of government, a group of researchers said Thursday.

Pew surveyed more than 41,000 people across 38 countries between February and May, and the organization released results this month showing that the world’s view of representative democracy is still highly favorable. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said that representative democracy is a good form of government.

At the same time, 66 percent said direct democracy is good governance, and 49 percent had favorable views on a government ruled by experts. About 26 percent were in favor of rule by a strong leader, and 24 percent were in favor of rule by military.

“Despite what I think is maybe generally thought to be the case by elites in the United States, that American-style democracy is this model for the world, when we asked people around the world what they thought about American-style democracy there was not nearly the enthusiasm that we might have assumed when we asked the question,” Ken Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute, said while discussing the findings at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at CFR, said that the poll might suggest that “we’re sort of at a tipping point where people around the world are sort of looking at several models.”

Pew also asked participants how they feel democracy is working in their respective country. Less than half of respondents said that democracy is working well, with 46 percent satisfied and 52 percent not satisfied. The U.S. mirrored those results, with 46 percent of Americans saying they are satisfied with the way democracy is working in the U.S.

As Pew’s Associate Director of Research Katie Simmons pointed out, there is significant partisan difference between Republicans and Democrats on their satisfaction of democracy. The survey showed that supporters for the party in power are much more likely to register satisfaction with democracy. Nearly 70 percent of Republicans responded that they are satisfied with the way democracy is working, which compares to 49 percent of independents and 31 percent of Democrats.

“Republicans are much more satisfied. But then when it comes to direct democracy, Democrats are more supportive. And some of the non-democratic options, Republicans are somewhat more supportive,” Simmons said.

Results showed that about 33 percent of Republicans are supportive of the idea of having a “strong leader” who is allowed to govern without interference from other branches of government. That compares to 20 percent of independents and 17 percent of Democrats.

Researchers also discussed how Europe shows the highest support in the world for direct democracy, with 70 percent of the 10 countries surveyed saying they think this is a good form of governance. Of those 10 European countries surveyed, the UK showed the lowest amount of support for direct democracy. Simmons said that might be partly attributable to the Brexit vote.

“You know it’s been a year after Brexit, and this may be, you know, one of the reasons that we’re seeing that in the UK,” Simmons said. “So it’s something that we haven’t looked at directly by correlating percentage of times you’ve voted on referenda, but I do imagine that if people have had a negative experience with referenda you may see that support go down.”