Ahead of highly anticipated UK general election in 2024, satisfaction with democracy is low

A new survey by Ipsos KnowledgePanel conducted across seven countries - UK, France, Italy, Sweden, Poland, Croatia and US - reveals the public support democratic principles such as voting, building consensus, diffusion of power, despite widespread dissatisfaction with a system perceived to favour the rich and powerful.

The author(s)
  • Alex Bogdan Public Affairs
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Key findings:

  • Approximately one in two people are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in their country. This is highest in the US (56%), France and Italy (both 51%). 
  • In all countries surveyed, people are more likely to say democracy has gotten worse than better in the last five years. This rises to 73% in France and 70% in the US. 
  • In all but one country (Poland) are people more likely to say the economy is rigged to the advantage to the rich and powerful than it works for the benefit of everyone.  
  • In all countries people think radical change is needed to improve the current political system. 
  • However, people are worried about giving their political leaders too much power and feel they can influence things by voting in elections. 
  • Satisfaction with how democracy works tends to be highest at the local level, decreasing as the level of governance is further removed. 
  • People perceive their views are not represented by their national government. A third in France (33%) believe their views are represented, the highest in our survey. This falls to 17% in the UK.

In the UK:

  • Only just over a quarter of people in the UK (27%) are satisfied with the way democracy is working, with three in five (61%) saying it has worsened in the last five years.
  • More people say the EU represents their views and priorities (27%) than say the UK government represents their views and priorities (17%), though majorities do not feel represented by either institution.
  • Among the 7 countries polled, the UK is the only country where more people say the advantages of immigration outweigh the disadvantages (45%) than say the disadvantages of immigration outweigh the advantages (35%).
  • There is a strong feeling that the economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful (71%) and a desire for radical change (62%).
  • Only half (53%) of people in the UK say they can influence things by voting, fewer than in France (71%) or Sweden (77%).

Alex Bogdan, Research Director at Ipsos says:

Our research finds there is clear dissatisfaction with how democracy and representation works in practice in the seven countries we have polled. While details vary, the general sense across countries is that current political system is not working well to serve the needs of ordinary people and there is appetite for radical change.
Yet we also find strong support for institutions and approaches that support democratic values, like voting and diffusion of power. The question for political leaders is if they can harness that desire for participation and reconciliatory politics to improve how our political systems work and deliver for people.

Low levels of satisfaction with how democracy is working

In nearly all countries surveyed, approximately one in two people are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in their country. And more people think the way democracy works has worsened over the last five years than that it has got better.

This ranges from 73% of people in France saying the way democracy works has got worse, to 37% in Croatia. Sweden is the only country in this research where a majority are satisfied with the way democracy is working (58%), but 43% say it is getting worse.

Higher political efficacy at local levels than more remote levels of governance

The public across all seven countries are more likely to say they have influence on decision making in their local communities/city, and the perceived level of influence on decision making decreases for regional/state levels, country and is lowest at the supranational level.

A similar pattern is seen around satisfaction with how democracy works. In the US, UK, France, Italy and Poland, the public are most satisfied with how democracy works in their community/city and least satisfied with how democracy works at the supranational level – as low as 18% in the US, and 17% France, while in Poland a third (34%) are satisfied with how democracy works at the national level. Croatia is an exception, where a quarter (26%) are satisfied with how democracy works in the EU, and only one in five are satisfied with democracy at local, regional or country levels.

The system is rigged

In almost all countries people are more likely to say the economy is rigged for the rich and powerful than say it works for the benefit of everyone. More than two-thirds in Italy (72%), UK (71%), France (69%), the US (67%) and Croatia (66%) say the economy works for the rich and powerful.

This is echoed in people thinking those that run their country are more focused on the interested of the rich and powerful. Majorities in five countries (UK, Croatia, US, France and Italy) say the people that run their country put the needs of the rich and powerful first.

In all seven countries polled, large numbers say radical change is needed to improve the current political system in the country, from 44% in Sweden, to as high as 69% in Croatia.

Strong support for democratic principles despite desire for radical change

Despite desire for radical change, we find strong support for institutions and approaches to politics that support democratic values. In all countries, more people than not say they can influence things by voting in elections. And more people say it would be too risky to give the Prime Minister/President more power to deal directly with many of the country’s problems than say it would be more effective if the Prime Minister/President didn’t have to worry as much about votes in the legislature, from 42% in each of Italy and Poland supporting more diffusion of power to 64% in France.


About this study

This survey was conducted September 21 to 30, 2023 using KnowledgePanel, Ipsos’ probability-based panels in Croatia, France, Italy, Poland, Sweden, the UK and the US.

The author(s)
  • Alex Bogdan Public Affairs

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