Americans are dissatisfied with our government – they believe dysfunctional government is the number one problem in the Nation. Congressional approval is currently only 21% (9% for Democrats, 21% for Independents, and 35% for Republicans). Although approval is currently higher than the 18% average for 2018, it’s below the 31% historical average since 1974 and the 40% high in 2000. The Federal Government rating is also lower than all 24 industry sectors tested by Gallup (worse than Oil & Gas and Pharma).
Is our dissatisfaction justified? Let’s look at how American democracy stacks up against other democracies around the world. The Economist Intelligence Unit produces an annual Democracy Index based on electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties.
In 2018, the U.S. ranked 25th overall in the Democracy Index, down from 18th in 2008. Accordingly, the U.S. is now considered a “Flawed Democracy”, rather than one of the 20 “Full Democracies”, which include Canada and many Western European Nations.
The significant decline in the U.S. ranking is primarily due to the deterioration in the functioning of government, where we rank 32nd (along with 5 other nations, including Botswana, Jamaica and Indonesia). The decline is the result of growing political polarization and weakened confidence in institutions.
The U.S. score on political culture is also low – we’re tied with 9 other countries for 16th place, including Germany, South Korea and Israel. Our score has declined in the last decade, due to partisanship, conflicts within government, and executive branch undermining of the legislative and judicial branches.
The U.S. scores slightly better on political participation, although still relatively low for full democracies. Participation improved during the 2018 midterms, as a result of greater representation of women.
Despite the midterm uptick, U.S. participation remains embarrassingly low. A Pew Research deep dive ranks America 26th out of 32 developed democracies on participation, based on voting-age people participating in the 2016 election. Only 70% of voting age citizens, 64% of all potential voters, are registered. Although 86.7% of registered voters voted in 2016, that’s only 55.7% of the voting age population (61% of citizens).
Only 28.5% of estimated eligible voters participated in the 2016 primaries. That’s only 46.7% of general election voting.
Although the U.S. scores fairly high on civil liberties, 8.24 out of a possible score of 10, that ranks America 35thon civil liberties, tied with 6 other nations, including Slovenia, Argentina and Columbia. Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand are the only nations with a ranking of 10.
The highest U.S. score, 9.17, is on electoral process and pluralism. However, we still rank 33rd, tied with 23 other nations, including India, Bulgaria and the Philippines. Eight countries rank a top score of 10, including Uruguay, Norway (the top-ranking democracy) and Australia.
Around the world there is growing disillusionment with the practice of democracy, due to low scores for transparency, accountability and corruption. However, it’s striking that participation is increasing around the world, despite the deterioration of trust in democracy. Perhaps more citizens standing up can reduce the decline of democracy and civil liberties.
More than ½ the world’s population lives in an authoritarian or non-democratic regime. Would they encourage us to stand together or risk division? Would they suggest country over party? Would they tell each and every one of us to engage and be part of the solution? Definitely.