WASHINGTON - Democracy may get a passing mark overall across advanced economies, but a new report released on Thursday (Oct 21) reveals a snapshot of widespread simmering discontent with political systems in the United States, Europe and parts of East Asia.
The Pew Research Centre, which surveyed nearly 19,000 people across 17 advanced economies from March to May this year, found that a median of 56 per cent believe their political system needs major changes or a complete reform.
Roughly two-thirds or more hold this view in Italy, Spain, the US, South Korea, Greece, France, Belgium and Japan, said the centre in its report analysing views of democracy and the desire for political, economic and healthcare reform.
In contrast, respondents in Singapore are the most satisfied with how well its democracy is working and have relatively low demand for reform despite its democratic system being rated by various organisations like Freedom House and Varieties of Democracy as the least free in the group of advanced economies.
Some 82 per cent of Singaporeans say they are satisfied with the way democracy is working at home, compared with the overall median of 57 per cent.
Less than half the people surveyed in Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Spain and the US are satisfied with their democracy.
"Attitudes towards the state of democracy and political reform are shaped in part by views about the economy, the impact of Covid-19 and social and political divides," the report said.
"Across every public surveyed, people are much more likely to be satisfied with the way democracy is working if they support the party in power, say the current economic situation is good and think their society is more united now than it was before the coronavirus outbreak," it added.
In contrast, those who are dissatisfied with democracy and the economy and those who view their society as deeply partisan are consistently more likely to say that their political system needs at least major changes.
But at the same time, many who want change are not confident that reform is even possible, the survey found.
Across the 17 advanced economies, a median of 46 per cent want change, but are also not confident their political system can be changed. A median of just 18 per cent think that the change needed is possible.
Support for reform was less when it came to the economy and healthcare, with views varying widely.
In Greece, Italy and Spain, for instance, large majorities think their economy needs an overhaul, while large majorities in New Zealand, Sweden and Australia do not think their economic system needs to be changed much.
Large majorities in the US and Greece likewise are most vocal about reforming their healthcare system, while most people in Australia, Taiwan and Singapore do not think their healthcare needs major changes.
Since the Pew Research Centre started including Singapore this year in its survey of global attitudes in advanced economies, the Republic has often been an outlier, standing out as one of the least divided societies, as well as having the most positive views of China.
Previous global attitude surveys by Pew have also found that discontent with the way democracy is working is common around the world, including in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Views, however, vary across and within regions.