Pretty Scary

Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times, displayed the above graph, which is taken from this article in the Journal of Democracy.

After seeing this graph, I was going to put the title “Absolutely Terrifying” on this post.  But when looking at survey data, I like to dig into the source information a bit and look at the wording of the actual questions asked.  This data comes from something called the World Values Survey, and the specific question is:

How important is it for you to live in a country that is governed democratically? On this scale where 1 means it is “not at all important” and 10 means “absolutely important” what position would you choose?

I wondered how the results would look if I added the “9”  answers, one notch below “absolutely important”, to those who gave the highest possible importance answer…then did the same thing when adding the “8” respondents.  Here’s what I got (US data only), summarized.

“Absolutely Important” only:

1930s 63%
1940s 56%
1950s 57%
1960s 47%
1970s 43%
1980s 27%

“Absolutely Important” plus “9” responses:

1930s 78%
1940s 74%
1950s 67%
1960s 61%
1970s 57%
1980s 40%

When I also add those who assigned democracy an “8” rating, I get a total of 89% for the 1930s cohort falling to 77% for the 1960s birth and 53% for those born in the 1980s.

(There have been six “waves” of the World Values Survey; I used only the most recent one, which probably explains why my numbers for the “absolutely important” category are slightly different from those shown in the graph.  The data is openly available here, and the display and crosstab toolset is very easy to use.)

So the results are slightly less-alarming than they appeared at first glance, which is why I changed the title of this post from “Absolutely Terrifying” to “Pretty Scary.”  Still, 40% is less than half, and the indication that only 40% of the 1980s cohort value democracy as either “maximally important,” or one step down from that, should be of considerable concern.

Your thoughts?

16 thoughts on “Pretty Scary”

  1. Bernie Sanders was an open supporter of the USSR until the bitter end, and the kids today love him. It’s like if an ex-Nazi was hugely popular with hippy kids in the 60s.
    So yeah I’d say Absolutely Terrifying covers it.

  2. I suppose if would depend on what is meant by Democracy, wouldn’t it?

    Pure, unrestrained, majority rule would scare the pants off me.

    If one considers the US to be one’s ideal of demoracy, then I am in favor.

    Majority/mob rule tempered by a A WRITTEN constitution and a lot of roadblocks seems to have worked pretty well so far.

    John Henry

  3. Would have been illuminating if they first asked people whether they thought their country was currently being governed democratically. And clarified whether their definition includes such outstanding places as the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.

  4. Freddo…a good point. Scanning the questions, I see that there was indeed a question, “How democratically is this country being governed today?”

    Using the most recent Wave of the survey, Wave 6 and adding the “completely” answer atyd the answer one step down, the US number was 14.6%.

    I’ll take a look at some other countries when I get a chance…it’s a little tricky since not all countries were surveyed in all the Waves.

  5. The present education industry is probably responsible for the US results. Primary schools to higher ed have all become dominated by a leftist mindset demanding safety and free stuff and rating freedom much lower in recent decades. Some of this is the result of the absence of serious threats, like the end of the Cold War.

    It may be significant that the man who heads the College Board, with its dumbed down SAT and the new “Adversity Score,” was also a major figure in the development of the “Common Core” school standards.

  6. The U.S. by design is not governed Democratically — or else issues very popular with significant majorities, past and present, would be in effect.

    Slavery was popular and commanded majorities in the South. Same Sex Marriage restrictions are popular and won a majority vote in California. Hillary Clinton was also popular in California, for some reason, and including that outcome among all others would have democratically elected her over the opponent who seemingly better understood the Electoral College system.

    Tyrants can be quite popular as historically evidenced from Cypselus in 7 BC Corinth, to Hugo Chavez recently. Living in a first-stage tyranny might be better than living as a peasant or even middle-class shop-keeper under any corrupt aristocratic rule. Or better than democratic rule, if (as in the recently disaggregated Yugoslavia), your particular demoGRAPHIC is demoCRATICally out-voted, overpowered, and oppressed. The democratic rule in South Africa now is similarly working out very poorly for some demographics.

    This is by no means an apologetic for tyranny. But let’s acknowledge that pure and ideal democratic rule is hardly practical. Add-on features like federalism, the US Senate, the Electoral College, or (elsewhere) the British Monarch, the House of Lords — non-democratic institutions generally seem to be essential to the design.

  7. In the younger groups, democracy is judged by how equal things are regardless of the structure used to achieve it. In that case the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea probably scores high on “actual” democracy for them. They only focus on their feelings about something, not the actual functional structure.


  8. Same Sex Marriage restrictions are popular and won a majority vote in California.

    Actually, it lost the popular vote in California by 60%. The Prop 8 ,that would have declared marriage only between a man and woman, was victorious on the ballot but reversed by a federal judge who then “married” his gay lover. Jerry Brown was AG and declined to appeal.

  9. Another interesting question in the WVS is V99: “competition is good–it stimulates people to work hard and develop new ideas” versus “competition is harmful–it brings out the worst in people.”

    For the 1980s birth cohort, 5.4% of Americans gave one of the three answers that were most in the “harmful” direction….one might have expected worse, given all the “participation trophies,” elimination of valedictorians for ‘self-esteem’ reasons, etc. And it is a little worse for the 1990s-born people, 8.9%.

    For the 1940s cohort, the corresponding number is 4.7%. So maybe the fear of competition isn’t as widespread as many ‘educators’ and ‘experts’ would have us believe.

  10. I’m relatively young do not support democracy.

    Democracy has two chief virtues:

    1 – Peaceful transfer of power
    2 – Exposure of leadership to criticism and replacement

    A third virtue may be the promotion of political stability via providing the illusion that the people rule, limiting discontent with the regime. I say “may” because democracy can also drive polarization and thus instability. The present time is a good example as were the 1850s.

    These are good virtues and not to be lightly discarded. The reason I am willing to forego them is the relentless aggression of the messianic left against, well…empirical reality itself.

    I’ve reached the point where I think the left needs to be destroyed by whatever means necessary before they destroy what’s left of us. Bring on the man on the white horse.

  11. I think Death6 is onto something in suspecting that younger people are not so much thinking about “the will of the people” as whether they think things are fair for everyone – and have been trained to focus on how unfair things are. Democracy as feeling. I very much doubt they are thinking of technical differences between democracy and republic, nor do I think the questioners were making that distinction either. Only nutcases like us have been insisting that “We’re a republic, dammit!” all these years. But as usual the nutcases are turning out to have been on to an important distinction all along…

  12. David, I think the US system works reasonably well. While it had many democratic elements, I do not think it can be called a democracy by any stretch.

    Lots of people do though.

    In a democracy, if 80% wanted to deport all Muslims, even citizens, what would stop them?

    Or, you and me for our political beliefs.

    John Henry

  13. Thorfinssen,

    I’m not sure about your first point. I don’t see how pure democracy necessarily promotes peaceful transfer of power.

    What happens if I am in the minority? Why would I peacefully accept a govt that wants to do me down? For my political views, religion, color, success or whatever.

    Definitely don’t see any reason it would assure freedom of speech or dissent. Your second point.

    US style “democracy” does. But not true or pure democracy.

    John Henry

  14. It’s like if an ex-Nazi was hugely popular with hippy kids in the 60s.

    Paul deMann. The kids loved his intellectual honesty and prowess.

Comments are closed.