One in ten Spaniards rejects the idea that “democracy is the best form of government”
Spain is one of the countries in the world in which citizens have experienced a greater drop in their satisfaction with democracy during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is determined by an analysis of Center for the Future of Democracy at the University of Cambridge which is based on 6,852 opinion polls conducted in 169 countries, to which a total of 8 million people have responded. The study also claims that Spain is one of the countries in which support has risen the most for the government to be led by a strong leader that you don’t have to worry about elections or parliaments
The drop in support for democracy is one of the characteristics shared by the countries analyzed, but the magnitude of the change in Spain “it is one of the most extreme cases”, as explained to this newspaper Xavier Romero, one of the authors of the study. The other industrialized countries in which there is a collapse similar to that of Spain in support for the democratic system are Greece, Germany, and Japan. All four share a demographic characteristic: they have an aging population. In fact, the study reflects an almost perfect correlation in “full democracies” between the percentage of inhabitants over 70 years of age and the decline in support for that system of government.
The consequence of this is that in Spain almost one in ten people reject the idea that “democracy is the best form of government”. It may sound like little, but just five years ago the proportion was half, which reveals a constant decline in the popularity of the democratic system. Thus, according to internal data that the Center for the Future of Democracy has shared with this newspaper, the rejection of democracy in Spain, which historically had been in 5% of the population, rose to 5.4% in 2017, the 7.8% in 2019, and 9.3% in 2021.
At the same time, more than a third of Spaniards defend the idea that there is a strong leader that he does not see his freedom of action limited by the system of checks and balances of the democratic system. Specifically, 36% of those surveyed support this idea. It is a figure lower than the 41% of 2019, but considerably higher than the 26% of 2017. Here, Spain is above countries such as Sweden or Great Britain, although in France or Italy the idea of the ‘strong leader’ has more support.
To this is added an extremely confidence in Pedro Sánchez specifically in regard to the fight against Covid-19. When comparing the credibility offered by a head of state or government in relation to social networks when it comes to obtaining information about the pandemic with social networks, the result is devastating for the Spanish president. In general, political leaders have, as one might expect, much more credit than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube. Of thirteen countries surveyed, this is the case in twelve: all except Japan. But the next, starting from the back, is Spain, where Sánchez barely manages to be believed when talking about the coronavirus, less than 10% of citizens more than those who prefer to rely on social networks.
In Spain, too, Covid-19 has hardly had the appeasing effect of political tension and reinforcement of national unity that, according to Cambridge, it has shown in other countries. Thus, of thirteen nations analyzed by Cambridge, Spain is the third – after the United States, which is an extreme case of division, and Italy – in which the pandemic has had the least impact in reducing political divisions between the population and improve the value that voters have of other citizens who support political options different from theirs.
The point is that in most of the countries analyzed by the University of Cambridge there is a drop in support for democracy and an increase in the preference for political leadership without limitations, but Spain takes this trend further than the others. That does not mean that populism has a good future.
On the contrary. The study shows that support for such political options is plummeting, especially in regions in economic decline, where until now they had their largest breadbasket of votes. In fact, the big cities are the ones that have seen the most growth of this political option, “possibly because the Covid-19 has hit urban centers harder,” according to Romero. And that is something that also occurs in Spain. But that rise has not made up for the plummeting popularity of populism. Not even when the leaders of that ideological current have moderated their positions, as in Poland, have they managed to recover their popularity. This is due, according to the study, to the fact that the health crisis has highlighted the importance of scientific knowledge and the professional management of the State apparatus among citizens.
The problem is that support for democracy is also falling. That seems, implicitly, more support for a non-democratic technocracy, in the style of, say, China. The report does not include these assessments, given that, as Romero explains, “We have not reached such explicit conclusions at that level because the data we have really does not allow it”. But what does seem evident is that the citizens of advanced democracies are having more and more affinity towards the idea of ”everything for the people, but without the people.”
Thus, Covid-19 has slowed down the rise of populism and has reinforced the idea that democracy is not effective in general, and less so to combat an emergency situation like the one the world has been suffering for two years. According to the report’s authors, it is a social and political change that is likely to continue for the next decade, just as the financial crisis of 2008-2012 marked the political evolution of the countries until the arrival of Covid-19.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism