NEW YORK – A majority of Indians favor military rule or prefer the country being run by a strongman, and an overwhelming majority of Indians support the Bharatiya Janata Party-run government, helmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, says a new Pew Research Center survey.
The survey was conducted among 41,953 respondents in 38 countries from February 16 to May 8, 2017.
The survey, published earlier this week, indicated a deepening anxiety about the future of democracy around the world has spread over the past few years.
However, democracy is the most favored method of government worldwide. More than half in each of the nations polled consider representative democracy a very or somewhat good way to govern their country. In all countries, pro-democracy attitudes coexist, to varying degrees, with openness to nondemocratic forms of governance, including rule by experts, a strong leader or the military, said a Pew report based on the survey.
Majorities in nearly all nations also embrace another form of democracy that places less emphasis on elected representatives. A global median of 66% say direct democracy – in which citizens, rather than elected officials, vote on major issues – would be a good way to govern. This idea is especially popular among Western European populists.
Satisfaction with democracy is considerably lower, the report said. In North America, 70% of Canadians say they think their political system is working well, but Americans are divided, and right so, considering the partisan, stalling methods on Capitol Hill. Just under half in the U.S. (46%) are happy with their democracy and 51% are unhappy.
The survey reveals that large numbers in many nations would entertain political systems that are inconsistent with liberal democracy. For instance, when asked about a system in which experts, not elected representatives, make key decisions based on what they think is best for the country, a median of 49% across these 38 countries say this would be a good way to run their nation, the Pew report said.
Asian-Pacific publics generally back rule by experts, particularly people in Vietnam (67%), India (65%) and the Philippines (62%). Only Australians are notably wary: 57% say it would be a bad way to govern, and only 41% support governance by experts.
While military rule is the least popular political system tested on the survey, even this finds some support across the globe, and half or more express this view in India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and South Africa.
People with less education are more likely than those with more education to say a military government would be a good thing in 23 countries. In 18 of these countries, the gap is at least 10 percentage points. For example, in the U.S., 24% of people with a secondary education or less say rule by the military would be good for their country, compared with 7% of those with more than a secondary education.
Notably, roughly half of both Indians (53%) and South Africans (52%), say military rule would be a good thing for their countries. But in these societies, older people (those ages 50 and older) are the least supportive of the army running the country, and they are the ones who either personally experienced the struggle to establish democratic rule or are the immediate descendants of those democratic pioneers. In South Africa, blacks (55%) more than whites (38%) also favor the military making governance decisions.
Only one-in-10 Europeans back military rule. But some on the populist right of the political spectrum voice such support. Nearly a third of those who hold a favorable view of the National Front in France (31%) say a governing system in which the military rules the country would be a good thing, as do nearly a quarter of those who favor UKIP in the United Kingdom (23%).
In Asia, 55% of Indians, 52% of Indonesians and 50% of Filipinos favor autocracy. Such support is particularly intense in India, where 27% very strongly back a strong leader.
However, public views of rule by a strong leader are relevant in countries that have experienced degrees of authoritarianism in recent years. Roughly eight-in-ten Venezuelans (81%) and 71% of Hungarians oppose a strong leader who makes decisions without interference of parliament or the courts.
Unconstrained executive power also has its supporters. In 20 countries, a quarter or more of those polled think a system in which a strong leader can make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts is a good form of government. This type of regime is particularly popular in several nations where executives have extended or consolidated their power in recent years, such as the Philippines, Russia and Turkey.
In addition to politics, the status of the economy is strongly related to people’s trust in their government. Publics that have experienced a higher level of economic growth over the past five years tend to have more confidence in their national government to do the right thing for their country.
For example, in India, where the economy has grown on average by 6.9% since 2012, 85% trust their national government. In comparison, just 26% of Italians have confidence in their government; their economy has contracted over the past five years (-0.5% average GDP growth).
In 29 of the 37 countries asked the question, the trust gap between those who are happy with the economy and those who are unhappy is at least 20 percentage points.
The survey makes one thing clear: Indians, though they support the BJP government, are also aching for substantial change in society, make it more progressive, as majority for military rule suggests. Although Pew doesn’t give the reasons, it’s likely Indians want the nation to become more modern, safe for women and minorities; expand and strengthen the rule of law and order, curb and punish disruptive extremist elements.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)