Global survey: Confidence in democracies falls, autocracies rise

Since the 1990s, the Edelman Trust Barometer has been conducting global polling to determine the level of trust people around the world place in the four primary institutions impacting people’s lives (business, government, NGOs, and media). This year’s results were recently released and the news isn’t particularly encouraging for democracies and freedom around the planet, not just here in the United States. Owing to a variety of largely anecdotal factors, people’s faith in various institutions in western, democratic nations has been on the slide since the pandemic began. Curiously, confidence in the government in repressive, autocratic states like China has been on the rise. What can be done to restore that trust is an open question, but this is clearly a disturbing trend. (Reuters)

Public trust in governments running the world’s democracies has fallen to new lows over their handling of the pandemic and amid a widespread sense of economic pessimism, a global survey has found.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, which for two decades has polled thousands of people on trust in their governments, media, business and NGOs, conversely showed rising scores in several autocratic states, notably China.

It also highlighted that business, thanks to its role developing vaccines and adapting workplace and retail practices, had retained strong levels of trust globally, albeit with reservations about its commitment to social fairness.

The biggest factor cited by respondents, according to CEO Richard Edelman, is the amount of confidence people have in the economies of their governments. Two of the bigger losers in terms of trust in the economy were China and the United States. On a scale of 100, China dropped from a ranking of 90 to 72 while America slid from 53 to 48.

But even as faith in the future of the economy eroded across the board during the pandemic, trust in the four main institutions listed above actually rose in China. Institutional public trust in China rose 11 points to 83 percent. Similar gains were seen in Thailand and the United Arab Emirates. Meanwhile, institutional trust in the United States fell by five points to 43%. Other losers in that category included Germany, Australia, and the Netherlands.

Edelman notes that trust in the government surged globally in March of 2020, when people apparently believed that their government would lead them out of the pandemic and restore the economy so their jobs would come back quickly. Everyone, including in the United States, was eventually disabused of that notion and the trust bubble quickly burst.

None of this suggests that there is a global collapse of faith in the institution of democracy itself, by the way. What Edelman is measuring is the trust and confidence people are placing in how these various governments are performing and will perform in the future. This survey shouldn’t suggest that there’s been a sudden abandonment of the concepts of freedom and democratic rule in favor of socialism or communism. (Well, except in certain portions of the DNC, perhaps, but I digress.) Still, it’s a rather alarming signal if people have more faith in China leading the way out of the pandemic and into the future than the United States.

Who doesn’t value or long for personal freedom and opportunity? I had long assumed that everyone who enjoys these gifts treasures them and those who are denied them secretly yearn for them. Perhaps that’s just my own personal biases showing through and people’s attitudes are more strongly shaped by the environment they grow up in. If you were born and raised in a place like China or North Korea and spoon-fed a diet of government propaganda for your entire life, perhaps you would think the system was working just fine. (As long as you’re not in one of the groups being actively repressed.)

Still, I found these results disturbing. So, of course, I decided to toss this out there for consideration. I’m currently wondering about the Democrats’ claims in the United States that democracy “is on the verge of collapse.” Of course, this is nothing new for liberals. It didn’t take much searching to find a Vox article from October of 2015 predicting that American democracy was circling the drain. And that was when Obama was in office and Hillary Clinton was seen as the default First Female President on the way to victory. Personally, I can’t picture an America without a democratic form of government. But I will readily agree that the autocratic impulses of too many politicians seizing unbridled power through the excuse of a declared state of emergency is putting quite a bit of strain on the system. Still, I retain hope that a couple of election cycles will relieve the pressure and restore order.

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