This is Part 1 of 5 in Dalia’s Democracy Perception Index Insights Series, which summarizes our findings from a global public opinion poll in 54 countries, with over 177,000 participants. This is the second year that we have Democracy Perception Index (DPI) and presented at the Democracy Summit organized by the Rasmussen Foundation. In this post, we will outline the gaps we saw in information, the challenge that public confidence poses to democratic societies, and how we designed the survey. In this post, we will outline how we tapped into public opinion from around the world in order to find out what people think of democracy. We will explain our approach to designing a large-scale survey that sheds light on why democracies are in crisis, whether or not people still value democracy today and what the general public wants to do about it.
Why measure public perception of democracy?
The fall of the Berlin wall 30 years ago marked a symbolic victory for Democracy that resonated around the world. The confidence that democracy would continue to expand across the world was so great that political scientist Francis Fukiyama proclaimed it the “End of History” in that same year. Indeed, the following expansion of democratic systems around the world in the 1990s and 2000s appeared to validate the idea.
But now in 2019, after more than a decade of democratic decline around the world, the future of democracy looks much less certain. Daily news headlines show a rise of anti-establishment political parties, growing support for authoritarian leaders, eroding of democratic norms, dropping voter turnout and growing public unrest.
It’s with this in mind that leaders in the public and private sector from nations around the world met in Copenhagen this summer for the second year of the annual Democracy Summit, to discuss the challenges facing the world’s democracies and to propose solutions. In the end, however, democracy’s survival depends – by design – on what citizens think of it. There are many indices that measure the health of democracy, but democracy is also a feeling, a perception of participation from the general public. The key to saving democracy is to understand the opinion of the everyday people on whom it depends. Without a firm understanding of how the general public views democracy today, the solutions proposed by world leaders to the crisis of democracy will likely miss the mark.
That’s where Dalia Research comes in: now that billions of people are connected to the internet around the world, it has never been easier to listen to the voices of everyday people.
As a company based in Berlin and founded on the mission to transform public opinion around the world into insights that help leaders make better decisions, Dalia Research was proud to bring the voices of millions of people around the world to the Democracy Summit to shed light on the crisis. We partnered with Rasmussen Global to conduct the world’s largest global study on democracy, known as the Democracy Perception Index, and present the results at the conference. The survey collected opinions from over 177 thousand people in 54 of the world’s largest countries, representing 75% of the world’s population.
Defining the Problem
The purpose of the Democracy Perception Index is to capture how people from around the world perceive democracy in their countries – more specifically, to understand why democracy is in decline around the world from the perspective of the world’s citizens. The most often cited reason why democracy is in decline, is that people have lost faith in the idea of democracy. However, most measures of declining “satisfaction with democracy” or declining “support of democracy” usually do not differentiate between two very different types of support:
- The support of democracy as a concept in general
- The support of democracy as it is currently being practiced
This is a really important difference, and it can lead to a different interpretation of the results. For example, if many people say they are not satisfied with democracy, it could either mean that:
- They don’t think democracy as a concept is a good idea
- They don’t think that their country is doing a good job of being democratic
With the Democracy Perception Index (DPI), we set out to differentiate between these two types of support. More specifically, we set out to find if people have actually lost faith in democracy as a concept, or if instead they are just dissatisfied with the current state of democracy in their country.
Designing the Survey Questions
Support of Democracy as a Concept
To find out if people have actually lost faith in democracy, we asked the following question:
How important is it for your country to be a democracy?
The purpose of this question was to focus exclusively on the support of democracy as a concept, regardless of how they think democracy is currently performing or even whether or not they think their country is democratic. If people say that democracy is not important, then we can say democracy is facing a crisis of faith – people might be more interested in alternative forms of government, or no longer convinced that democracy is the best option.
Support of Democracy as it is Being Practiced
Next, to find out if democracy’s crisis is actually driven instead by a dissatisfaction with how democracy is currently being practiced, we asked the following question:
Think about your country today. How democratic do you think it is?
The purpose of this question was to see how people assess the current status of democracy in their country. Given the widespread frustration about money in politics, voter suppression and growing distrust of politicians, we wanted to see if people think that their governments are actually democratic. If people say that their governments are not democratic, then we can say that democracy might be facing a crisis not because people no longer like democracy as a system, but because they no longer feel like they their democratic system is functioning the way it’s supposed to (i.e. perhaps because of corruption).
The Perceived Democratic Deficit
Lastly, in order to better capture the sense of dissatisfaction with the current state of democracy, we measured the difference between how important people think democracy is and how democratic they think their country currently is. This gap is called the Perceived Democratic Deficit: the larger the gap, the more dissatisfied people are with the current level of democracy in their country. In this way, we designed the DPI to find out if democracy’s crisis is primarily driven by a loss of faith in democracy, or if it is because people are feeling a growing gap due to a lack of democracy in their country.
Social Media, Finance, and Threats to Democracy
The remaining questions of the DPI were designed to identify which major factors, ranging from the global finance industry to social media to US foreign policy influence people perceive as helping vs. hurting democracy in their country. Furthermore, we asked people around the world what they wanted to do about it – should governments regulate the financial industry more? Social media platforms?
To see the results of the Democracy Perception Index, here are the main sections:
- Global State of Democracy
If you would like to do a multi-country survey, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org