Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Do we still believe in U.S. democracy?

A political scientist named Amy Erica Smith investigates this question at The Monkey Cage. She reports on surveys that researchers used to compare political attitudes across the Americas. These focused on two variables:

How do you measure democracy? Every two years, the AmericasBarometer project monitors whether citizens in North and South America think their political systems are fundamentally legitimate — an attitude political scientists call “system support” — and assesses their levels of political tolerance.

The survey asks questions such as: Do you think your country’s courts guarantee a fair trial? Do you think political institutions protect citizens’ basic rights?

Questions on political tolerance ask whether political enemies, including “people who only say bad things about the system of government in your country,” should have basic political and civil rights, such as voting and free speech.

[Emphasis added for clarity.] Here's a chart of the results.
The United States appears to be the most tolerant of the lot; we generally believe that our fellow citizens are entitled to make idiots of themselves however they wish -- and to speak and vote accordingly.

But we are decidedly NOT special when it comes to what they call "system support" -- we have only middling amounts of confidence that our government embodies the rule of law and is doing its job for all citizens. It is a little amazing to see that citizens of El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico -- all of which look from afar like unstable, lawless kleptocracies -- think their governments are more legitimate than we think ours is.

In this research, younger people in the United States generally expressed less "system support" than older people. I can only assume that they simply don't think government is working for them.

The U.S. is a big country with a lot of different people. It would be interesting to see results from within the country broken out by racial, income, and religious groups. Is lack of "system support" -- of government legitimacy -- more pronounced among some groups than others? Which groups?

Governments that survive work to reduce whatever social shortcomings reduce system support. Even capitalists should understand this. The customers can get antsy.

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