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'Crisis of Trust': Poll Finds People Living in Democracies Think Governments Aren't Acting in Public Interest

"Democracies cannot afford to be complacent if they are to survive and prosper."

democracy sign

Occupy London demonstrators erected tents in front of St Paul's Cathedral on Oct. 16, 2011. (Photo: Neil Cummings/Flickr/cc)

Democracies worldwide are experiencing a "crisis of trust," according to the Democracy Perception Index (pdf) released Thursday, which found that among citizens of democratic nations, the majority does not believe that their voices matter in politics or that governments are acting in the public interest.

Earlier this month, Dalia Research, Alliance of Democracies, and Rasmussen Global polled some 125,000 people across 50 countries, and found that those living in nations deemed "democractic"—based on Freedom House's latest index—have even less faith in government than those living in "non-democratic" states.

More than half of respondents in democratic countries said their voices "rarely" or "never" matter in politics, and 64 percent said they believe their government "rarely" or "never" acts in the interest of the public. In terms of citizens not believing their voices have an impact, Japan fared the worst, with a full 74 percent of people who said they felt their voice doesn't matter.

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Austria, which has recently garnered international attention for the surging popularity of its far-right politicians, is the worst-ranked democracy in terms of acting in the public interest, and overall falls second to only the "partly free" Kenya. In the United States, 49 percent said their voice doesn't matter and 66 percent believe the government fails to serve the public.

Other key findings from all 50 surveyed countries include: more than half of citizens "don't trust the news they read," and nearly half "don't feel free to share political opinions in public." While citizens of democracies feel the most free to publicly discuss politics, a full 57 percent said they don't believe the news media gives them "balanced and neutral information."

"Democratic systems of governance are under severe threat, not only from foreign interference and the rise of autocratic regimes, but also from the huge crisis of confidence amongst the electorate," concluded Nina Schick, director of data and polling at Rasmussen Global. "Democracies cannot afford to be complacent if they are to survive and prosper."

As Dalia Research CEO and cofounder Nico Jaspers put it, "Right now the biggest risk for democracies is that the public no longer sees them as democratic."

The index was released to mark the inaugural Copenhagen Democracy Summit, which was organized by the three surveryers.

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