Much of the world hasn’t been fooled by propaganda about U.S. exceptionalism and superiority, according to a new poll released Wednesday.
On the contrary, almost half of respondents from 53 countries are worried that Washington threatens their democracy, and nearly two-thirds think economic inequality poses the biggest risk to popular rule.
Results of the Democracy Perception Index survey (pdf), conducted between February 24 and April 14 by Latana in collaboration with the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, are based on nationally representative interviews with more than 53,000 people.
According to the survey, “Governments are not living up to the democratic expectations of their citizens.” While a vast majority (81%) of people think that democracy is important, just over half (53%) feel like their country is democratic, and this large gap is growing in countries worldwide.
The countries with the largest “perceived democratic deficit,” or the difference between how important people say democracy is and how democratic they think their country is, are Poland, Nigeria, and Hungary. The three countries that come closest to fulfilling their citizens’ expectations are Switzerland, Norway, and Vietnam.
When asked if they think their government usually acts in the interests of most people in their country or of just a small group of people, 49% of respondents said their government mainly serves a minority—up from 43% last year.
Relatedly, economic inequality is deemed the biggest threat to democracy, by far, with 64% of people worldwide pointing to the growing gap between rich and poor as a trend that undermines political equality.
Global concerns about foreign election interference and the influence of autocratic leaders, meanwhile, are lower.
In addition to inequality, people are worried about limits on free speech (53%), unfair or fraudulent elections (49%), and the influence of Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook (48%). Fear of the power of Big Tech companies is particularly high in the U.S. (62%), which also has the most critical view of the impact of social media platforms on democracy.
Although global perceptions of the U.S. have improved since the inauguration of President Joe Biden, almost half (44%) of people around the world remain concerned that Washington poses a bigger threat to democracy in their country than either China (38%) or Russia (28%).
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“The results will make stark reading for the G7 foreign ministers as they hold a final day of talks in London in which they have collectively assumed the role as bulwarks of democratic values determined to confront autocracy,” The Guardian noted Wednesday. The study’s findings “show neither the U.S., nor the G7, can simply assume the mantle of defenders of democracy.”