Expert worries about China offering an alternative to democracy

As the American and French presidents celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, a smaller event showcased the special tie between the two allies in Washington, D.C., on Thursday and shined a light on the state of democracy worldwide.

The nonprofit International Republican Institute (IRI) and the French think tank Fondapol, along with Brazilian nonprofit República do Amanhã, released their report titled « Democracies Under Pressure. » A global survey of 42 countries in 33 languages, the survey interviewed over 36,000 people on their views of democracy, freedom, and common political issues like immigration.

« Regarding our survey, the principles of democracy remain widely endorsed, » said Fondapol executive director Dominique Reynie. « However, several negative indications have caught our attention. »

According to the survey, people under the age of 35 are more likely than those 60 and older to think it’s a good idea to have the government controlled by a strongman (38 percent to 23 percent), by experts who decide what is best for the country (69 percent to 45 percent), and by the armed forces (31 percent to 11 percent).

« A big problem is the declining of democratic culture among younger generations, » Reynie said.

The survey, however, also showed that 71 percent of men and 64 percent of women agreed « there is no substitute for the democratic system, it is the best possible system. » Sixty-two percent of people under the age of 35 also agreed with that statement. Seventy-two percent of men and 69 percent of women also agreed « voting is worthwhile because elections can make a difference. »

« I’m quite optimistic looking at this data » President and CEO of the Hudson Institute Kenneth Weinstein said, adding that even the large minority of people questioning the transparency of the electoral process in their country is a sign that people want their elections to be more fair and democratic. Forty-one percent of those surveyed globally said their country’s electoral process was « not at all » or « not really » transparent.

Reynie was less optimistic, stating that in the last 5 to 10 years China had offered an alternative to democracy. « It is true they don’t have elections, but [their government] is very efficient, » Reynie said, citing the Chinese government’s control of its borders, economic development, and education system. In the question and answer period, Reynie said the data show we should focus less on pushing democratic values, which are still highly regarded, and more on making democratic governments more efficient.

The survey showed that 67  percent of Americans believe there is no substitute for democracy and 51 percent either entirely or somewhat trusted the government, compared with 34 percent of those in the European Union. Americans were also more likely to trust the media than Europeans. Americans had the most trust in small businesses, the military, and the police, while they had the least trust in political parties and large companies.

The numbers also revealed that despite the rise of populism in Europe, Europeans favored a European Union joint army and would rather have immigration solved at the EU level than the national level.

The survey showed a general trust of big tech companies with the exception of Facebook, which was entirely or somewhat trusted by 42 percent of those surveyed. The other tech giants included were Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple.