According to a recent poll, the United States faces an uphill battle in positioning itself as the world’s chief defender of democracy, with the US seen as a greater threat to democracy than both Russia and China.
Even though citizens in democratic countries rate their governments’ handling of the Covid crisis less favourably than citizens in less democratic countries, the poll shows that support for democracy remains strong.
Inequality is seen as the greatest threat to global democracy, but big tech corporations’ dominance is still seen as a threat in the United States.
The results come from a survey conducted by the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, which included 50,000 people from 53 countries.
The findings would come as a shock to the G7 foreign ministers, who are meeting in London for the final day of talks in which they have jointly adopted the position of bulwarks of democratic principles determined to confront autocracy.
The survey was conducted by the Latana polling firm between February and April, so there could be some lingering effects of Donald Trump’s “America first” foreign policy in the results. Overall, the findings suggest that public views of the United States have begun to change since last year.
Whereas in the spring of 2020, citizens in both more democratic and less democratic countries were similarly happy with their governments’ pandemic response (70 percent), a year later, less democratic countries’ approval ratings have dropped to 65 percent, whereas more democratic countries’ approval ratings have dropped to 51 percent. The figure is 45 percent in Europe. In Asia, positive ratings hit 76 percent.
The most surprising finding is that nearly half (44%) of respondents in the 53 countries polled believe the US poses a threat to democracy in their country; by comparison, fear of Chinese influence is at 38%, and fear of Russian influence is at 28%. The findings may in part reflect views on US comparative power, but they show neither the US, nor the G7, can simply assume the mantle of defenders of democracy.
The perception of US power as a threat to global democracy has risen dramatically since last year, from a net opinion of +6 to a net opinion of +14. This rise is particularly pronounced in Germany (+20) and China (+16).
Russia and China, accompanied by European democracies, are the countries that are still largely hostile to US control.
The study reveals a global attachment to democracy, with 81 percent of people around the world believing that having democracy in their country is significant. Even in democracies, just a little more than half (53 percent) claim their country is democratic today.
Economic inequality is the most frequently mentioned obstacle to democracy (64 percent ).
With the exception of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, almost every country surveyed views restrictions on free expression as a lesser threat to democracy than inequality.
However, half of those polled (48%) believe that big tech corporations’ influence, rather than the mere presence of social media, poses a threat to democracy in their country. The United States is the most worried about big tech among democracies (62 percent), but fear is rising in many countries in comparison to last year, as evidenced by widespread support for further regulation of social media.
The most enthusiastic voters are in Norway, Switzerland, and Sweden, but the Chinese are as well, with 71 percent agreeing that China has the right amount of democracy. Just 33% of Russians believe their country is democratic. With the exception of Chin, global support for Joe Biden’s plans to host a Democracy Summit is solid.
The results are also concerning for eastern European democracies such as Hungary, where only 31% of voters believe their country is democratic, a figure that is comparable to that of Nigeria, Iran, Poland, and Venezuela.
Former NATO leader and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, chair of the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, said:
“This survey demonstrates that democracy is still alive and well in the hearts and minds of the people. We must now overcome the Covid-19 pandemic by providing more democracy and equality to citizens who want their countries to become more democratic.
“The positive support for an Alliance of Democracies, whether the UK’s D10 initiative or President Biden’s Summit for Democracy, shows that people want more cooperation to push back against the autocrats. Leaders should take note of these perceptions and act upon them.”