News & Updates

Why Have People Stopped Trusting Democracy?

Citizens have lost faith in democracy. And while they often blame capitalism or “the other party” for democracy’s dysfunction, the true culprit is a decline in civic virtue. In the new issue of the Journal of Democracy, Arthur C. Brooks urges a recommitment to civility and honesty in politics, media, academia, and institutions.

Misinformation, disinformation, hyperpolarization, and conspiracies, exacerbated by the modern media environment, have heightened distrust and anger. This in turn impedes government’s ability to do its job, and society’s ability to check demagogues. The following Journal of Democracy essays explore these dynamics and the important role ordinary citizens can play in countering democratic erosion.

America’s Crisis of Civic Virtue
The problem for democracy today is not capitalism; it is a decline in public honesty and civility. But there is an opportunity to revive our sense of national community, if we seize it.
Arthur C. Brooks

The Age of Political Fragmentation
Just as public frustration with democracy is mounting across the West, social turmoil and new technologies are splintering the very political authority governments need to act.
Richard H. Pildes

Why Democracy Fuels Conspiracy Theories
Conspiracy theories are not the sole preserve of dictatorships, but a global phenomenon. Worse, the political competition that is inherent to democracy is driving the spread of lies, fake schemes, and half-truths.
Scott Radnitz

Liberal Democracy’s Crisis of Confidence
Public-opinion data from Pew Research Center show that global support for representative democracy is widespread, but often thin. Amid rising economic anxiety, cultural unease, and political frustration, citizens are increasingly open to alternative systems of government.
Richard Wike and Janell Fetterolf

Polarization versus Democracy
Why do ordinary people vote to return to office undemocratic incumbents? New survey experiments in several countries suggest that many voters are willing to put their partisan interests above democratic principles — a finding that may be key to understanding democratic backsliding.
Milan W. Svolik

Democracy and Deep Divides
How do democracies deal with the deep divisions created by race, ethnicity, religion, and language? The cases of Canada, India, and the United States show that democratic institutions — notably, competitive elections and independent judiciaries — can bridge divides and build stability, but they must find a way to manage the tension between individual and group equality.
Nathan Glazer

The Americas: When Do Voters Support Power Grabs?
Recent survey research suggests that most voters disapprove of antidemocratic acts by elected leaders. Yet there are critical exceptions when a significant minority of voters are sympathetic to or even supportive of violations of democratic laws and norms.
Michael Albertus and Guy Grossman

Subscribe here to have curated collections like this one and other Journal of Democracy news delivered directly to your inbox.

Image Credit: Astrid Riecken/Getty Images