NEW YORK – While most countries are dissatisfied with democracy in their country, people in India rank behind only Sweden when it comes to actually being satisfied with democracy, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of 34 nations.
Startlingly, despite the deep-rooted skepticism around the efficacy of elected officials, when it comes to the question of whether elected officials care what people like them think, while a majority of Indians surveyed do have a negative view point, the margin of that dissatisfaction is the lowest of all countries surveyed, reveals the Pew research.
Overall, global opinion is more divided on the question of whether the state is run for the benefit of all. People generally agree that voting gives them a say about how the government runs things in their country, the survey reveals.
Across the surveyed countries, a median of 52% are dissatisfied with democracy, compared with 44% who are satisfied. Only 32% agree that elected officials care what people like them think; roughly twice as many (64%) disagree. Public opinion is divided on whether the state is run for the benefit of all people (49% agree, 50% disagree).
However, many still trust and value the voting process, as a median of 67% agree that voting gives people like them some say about how the government is run.
Dissatisfaction is apparent even in some of the most established democracies, according to the survey.
More than half of those surveyed in the UK (69%), the U.S. (59%), France (58%) and Japan (53%) express dissatisfaction with how democracy is working in their country. In Greece, 74% are dissatisfied, the highest share of all countries surveyed.
People in Asia-Pacific countries are most satisfied: a median of 58% in the region express satisfaction with how democracy is working in their country. India with 72% rate of satisfaction is only two percentage points behind Sweden of those expressing approval.
Also, in most countries surveyed, those who think elected officials don’t care about the opinions of ordinary people are more likely to be unhappy with how democracy is working in their country. This is especially clear in Lebanon, where 77% of those who believe elected officials don’t care what people like them think are dissatisfied with democracy – compared with 43% who think elected officials do care.
India is a bit of a contradiction though, as despite a majority of people surveyed expressing their satisfaction with democracy, the split between those who think elected officials care is only 19%, while double the number of that, 38%, express the opposite sentiment. In comparison, the US split is 45% (those who think officials care) to 65% (those who think officials don’t care).
The survey, conducted recently, point out that the margin of opposite viewpoints would not equate 100% for all responses.
The survey notes that Eastern Europeans are more likely than Western Europeans to agree that the state is run for the benefit of all. Majorities in four Eastern European countries surveyed – Slovakia (88%), the Czech Republic (79%), Hungary (74%) and Poland (56%) – believe the state is run for the benefit of all. This view is shared by majorities in only two Western European countries, Sweden (73%) and the Netherlands (70%).
The response from India, with 71% agreeing to the same, and only 23% disagreeing, is keeping in line with overall belief in the democratic process. The margin is narrower in the U.S., though, with 52% believing in the goodness of the state, while 46% disagree to that idealism.
A fair judiciary and gender equality are seen as the highest democratic priorities worldwide of those surveyed, according to Pew. Majorities in every country surveyed say a fair judiciary is very important, and more than half of people in every country but Nigeria and Tunisia say the same about gender equality.
Freedom of religion is more polarizing: It’s the first or second highest rated priority in 11 countries, but the lowest rated in seven others, mostly in East Asia and Europe. The ability of human rights organizations and opposition parties to operate freely are the lowest-rated principles, with global medians of just 55% and 54%, respectively, seeing these priorities as very important.
Freedom of religion tops the preference in India, a predominantly Hindu state (78%), followed by gender equality (72%), and fair judiciary (58%). Regular elections (57%) is also a top priority. Surprisingly, free Internet ranks as a low priority in India (25%). In fact, that number is only topped by Lebanon’s abysmal preference for free Internet: 24%.
In comparison, the U.S. and almost all developed nations place a high priority on a free internet, with the U.S. showing 71% preference for it. A fair judiciary and gender equality top preferences in the U.S.: both register at 93%.
Israel, a predominately Jewish state, has numbers in tandem with India when it comes to the question of freedom of religion. In most of the European Union countries surveyed, around 60% or fewer say that freedom of religion is very important in their country.
Across the 34 countries surveyed, a median of 68% say freedom of religion is important in their country, but there are substantial differences by country. People are least likely to see religion as very important in Japan (18%) and most likely to see it that way in Nigeria and the U.S. (88% and 86%, respectively).
In India, free media, free speech, free civil society and free opposition parties all rank in the thirties percentage range, indicating the less importance people attach to those attributes of a democracy. It also reveals that perhaps Indians don’t mind a more authoritarian type of government taking charge.
The perceived importance of freedom of the press varies considerably around the world. Support for free media is highest in Greece, Sweden, the U.S. and Argentina. But in some countries, fewer than half of people say it is very important to for the media to operate without government or state censorship in their country. Just 38% say this in Russia and 28% hold this view in Lebanon.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)