The United States faces an uphill task in presenting itself as the main guardian of global democracy, according to a new poll showing that the United States is seen worldwide as a greater threat to democracy than even Russia and China.
The survey finds that support for democracy remains high even though citizens of democratic countries rate their governments’ handling of the Covid crisis less well than people in less democratic countries.
Inequality is seen as the greatest threat to global democracy, but in the United States the power of big tech companies is also seen as a challenge.
The findings come from a survey commissioned by the Alliance of Democracies Foundation of 50,000 respondents in 53 countries.
The results will be a stark read for the G7 foreign ministers as they hold a final day of talks in London in which they have collectively assumed the role of bulwarks of democratic values determined to confront autocracy.
The poll was conducted by polling firm Latana between February and April, so a hangover effect from Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy may linger on the findings. Overall, the results show that US perceptions are beginning to improve from last year.
While in the spring of 2020 people in the most democratic and least democratic countries were equally satisfied with their government’s pandemic response (70%), a year later approval ratings dropped to 65% in less democratic countries, but in more democratic countries. the rating has dropped to 51%. In Europe the figure is 45%. Positive ratings reach 76% in Asia.
In perhaps the most surprising finding, nearly half (44%) of respondents in the 53 countries surveyed are concerned that the United States threatens democracy in their country; The fear of Chinese influence is, on the contrary, 38%, and the fear of Russian influence is the lowest, 28%. The findings may in part reflect views on the comparative power of the United States, but show that neither the United States nor the G7 can simply assume the role of defenders of democracy.
Since last year, the perception of American influence as a threat to democracy around the world has increased significantly, from a net opinion of +6 to a net opinion of +14. This increase is particularly high in Germany (+20) and China (+16).
The countries that remain overwhelmingly negative about America’s influence are Russia and China, followed by European democracies.
The study shows an attachment to democracy globally, with 81% of people around the world saying that it is important to have democracy in their country. Only slightly more than half (53%) say that their country is truly democratic today, even in democracies.
The greatest threat cited to democracy is economic inequality (64%).
In almost all the countries surveyed except Saudi Arabia and Egypt, limits on freedom of expression are seen as less of a threat to democracy than inequality.
But half of the people surveyed (48%) say that the power of big tech companies, unlike the simple existence of social media, is a threat to democracy in their country. Among democracies, the US is the most concerned about big tech (62%), but caution is growing in many countries compared to last year, reflected in broad support for more regulation of big tech. social media.
Voters in Norway, Switzerland and Sweden are more confident that their country is democratic, but so are the Chinese, where 71% agree that China has the right amount of democracy. In Russia, only 33% think their country is democratic. Global support for Joe Biden’s plans to host a Democracy Summit is high in all countries except China and Russia.
The findings will also be unsettling reading for democracies in Eastern Europe, such as Hungary, where only 31% of voters think their country is democratic, on par with the findings in Nigeria, Iran, Poland and Venezuela.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, President of the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, former NATO chief and Danish Prime Minister, said:
“This poll shows that democracy is still alive in the hearts and minds of the people. Now we have to get out of the Covid-19 pandemic by offering more democracy and freedom to people who want their countries to become more democratic.
“Positive support for an Alliance of Democracies, be it the UK’s D10 initiative or President Biden’s Democracy Summit, shows that people want more cooperation to push back autocrats. Leaders must take note of these perceptions and act accordingly. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism