Generational Shift: New Global Poll Reveals Large Minorities of Young People Lack Faith in Democracy to Deliver on Their Priorities
NEW YORK—The Open Society Barometer, an annual global survey from the Open Society Foundations that launched today, finds that young people around the world (Generation Z and millennials) hold the least faith in democracy of any age group, presenting a grave threat to its future. Over a third (35 percent) of respondents in the 18–35 age group were supportive of a strong leader who does away with legislatures and elections.
The report, Open Society Barometer: Can Democracy Deliver?, finds that the concept of democracy remains widely popular across every region of the globe, with 86 percent saying that they would prefer to live in a democratic state. There is also widespread disbelief that authoritarian states can deliver more effectively than democracies on priorities both nationally and in global forums.
Topping the list of such priorities, people worry most about poverty and inequality (20 percent), climate change (20 percent), and corruption (18 percent). Potentially indicating a lack of faith that governments are addressing such needs, around a third of respondents on average distrust politicians to work in their best interests.
The poll was carried out between May and July of 2023 by the pollster Savanta, as well as Gradus Research in Ukraine, using a mix of online panels and local vendors in 30 countries from every region and with a variety of political systems. The results paint a picture of the attitudes, concerns, and hopes of people in states with a collective population of over 5.5 billion—making it one of the largest studies of global public opinion on human rights and democracy ever conducted.
Following Open Society’s first such poll conducted last year, participants were asked questions about democracy and human rights, major issues facing their countries and the world, and international governance.
Commenting on the findings of the survey, Mark Malloch-Brown, president of the Open Society Foundations, said:
Our findings are both sobering and alarming. People around the world still want to believe in democracy. But generation by generation, that faith is fading as doubts grow about its ability to deliver concrete improvements to their lives. That has to change.
The findings include:
- People support democracy. Only 20 percent consider authoritarian countries more capable than democracies of delivering “what citizens want.” At the international level, two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents feel that democracies contribute more to global cooperation. Respondents also believe firmly in human rights, with an overwhelming 95 percent rejecting the idea that it’s OK for governments to violate the rights of those who look different from themselves. Countries across every region, income level, and current type of governance maintained strong levels of support.
- A large minority of young people surveyed (42 percent) feel that military rule is a good way of running a country. A similar number (35 percent) feel that having a strong leader who does not bother with elections or consulting legislatures is a good way of running a country. This compares to 20 percent that support military rule and 26 percent that are in favor of a strong leader in the 56 and above age bracket.
- Majorities in 21 of the countries polled fear that political unrest could lead to violence in the next year. Large majorities in some high-income countries also share this worry, including two-thirds of respondents in the United States and France. Forty-two percent of respondents believe the laws of their country do not keep people like them safe.
- Half of respondents (49 percent) say they have struggled to feed themselves at least once in the last year—a number that holds in states as dissimilar as Bangladesh and the United States.
- The climate crisis is a high priority for citizens across low-, middle-, and high-income countries. Seventy percent of those surveyed expressed anxiety that climate change will personally affect respondents and their livelihoods in the next year.
- Across the globe, corruption is considered the chief concern for people at a national level—with an average of 23 percent saying it is the most important issue facing their country. Countries in Africa and Latin America expressed far greater concern, in stark contrast with Western Europe.
- Poverty and inequality rank the highest (21 percent) among the issues that most directly impact people personally. This holds true in Senegal (the smallest economy surveyed) as well as the United States (the largest). Moreover, a majority (69 percent) believe that economic inequality between countries is a bigger challenge this year than last. This is most keenly felt in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.
- A plurality of respondents believe China’s growing influence will be a force for good—nearly twice as many respondents believe this will have a positive impact (45 percent) on their country as a negative one (25 percent). However, there is a sharp contrast between the enthusiasm of lower-income countries and the overwhelming negativity of high-income democracies, where only small minorities register positivity about the rise of China
- People believe that a fairer international system would be more effective. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed believe low-income countries should have a greater say in global decision-making—though, predictably, lower-income regions were more enthusiastic than Europe and the United States on this front.
Open Society Barometer: Can Democracy Deliver?
One of the largest global public opinion surveys on human rights and democracy ever conducted, our annual global poll represents the attitudes, concerns, and hopes of over 5.5 billion people across 30 countries.
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