Why are people giving up on democracy?

2 Jan 2015

New research shows an increasing level of discontent among western democracies, with a diminishing number of people in Australia who believe voting makes a difference. Matt O'Neil and Tim Roxburgh investigate what this growing disenchantment will mean for world politics in 2015.

Despite huge differences between countries, surveys of political attitudes around the western world consistently demonstrate one thing: voters feel let down by the democratic system, and many lay the blame squarely at the feet of the political establishment.

In Australia, just 60 per cent of voters prefer democracy over other forms of government. 

The Lowy Institute’s director of polling, Alex Oliver, has been studying this drop in voter confidence, and says the figures are surprising.

‘When we asked people to choose between a good democracy and a strong economy ... there was only just a bare majority, 53 per cent, who said they would prefer a good democracy over a strong economy,’ she says.

Research from the Australian National University suggests that our belief in the power of our vote is in a long term decline.

A poll taken in 2007 found 68 per cent of people thought it made a difference which party was in power. Today, just 43 per cent believe it matters who forms government.

Australians aren’t alone in that view, according to Associate Professor Brendon O’Connor from Sydney University’s United States Studies Centre.

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