Little Evidence for Disenchantment with Democracy among Europeans

Do people turn their backs on democracy? Recent studies by political scientists of the University of Mannheim contradict the popular hypothesis that more and more people have grown tired of democracy. The research was conducted in 18 European countries where support for democracy remained steady at a high level. Only in a few countries there are occasional signs for increasing openness towards non-democratic governance. Germans prove to be loyal supporters of the democratic idea by international standards.

When it comes to maintaining democracy, what matters are not only elites prepared to compromise but also citizens themselves. Democracies are stable as long as their citizens are ready to defend their right to self-rule. In the long run, democracies without democrats are difficult to imagine. Two studies of the University of Mannheim investigate the question of whether Europeans turn away from democracy. The researchers explore to what extent people have lost faith in the democratic state, its institutions and values.

In the 18 European democracies analyzed, there is no evidence for people becoming increasingly disenchanted with democracy. From 1981 until 2018, support for democracy as the preferred form of government remained steady at a high level. In Germany, for instance, 98 percent of the people approved of the democratic system as such. The researchers could not find any significant differences between generations. Trust in democratic institutions like the parliament varied with no clear downward trend. There is also no sign of citizens in Europe nowadays considering democracy as less meaningful. Overall, people’s attitudes towards democracy indicate stability.

Whether the general public will, in case of doubt, be ready to defend the democratic system on the streets or at the ballot box depends not least on their prioritizing of either democratic principles or partisan loyalty. For when it comes to people’s individual vote, democratic loyalty of the candidates and parties up for election is only one of many criteria.

Original publications:
Wuttke, A., Gavras, K.; Schoen, H. (2020): ‘Have Europeans Grown Tired of Democracy? New Evidence from 18 Consolidated Democracies, 1981-2018.’, British Journal of Political Science, Read the entire study.

Wuttke, A., Gavras, K.; Schoen, H. (2020): ‘Leader of the Free World or Pioneer in Democracy’s Decline? Examining the Democratic Deconsolidation Hypothesis on the Mass Level in East and West Germany’, Research & Politics, Read the entire study.