Why Are Millennials Fed Up With Democracy?

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Because democracies are not immune.

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Democracy is grand, gracious and the only path forward — or so the liberty-loving masses would have it. Today the majority of the world’s countries have democratic governments, more than ever before. But according to a recent study published in Journal of Democracy, democracy’s days may be numbered, with maxims such as “for the people, by the people” starting to fall on the deaf ears of younger generations.

Democracy is more “unimportant” than ever before for millennials.

It’s certainly a bold conclusion, especially as democracies quickly outpace remaining authoritarian regimes in Cuba, Eritrea, North Korea and elsewhere around the world. But as internet freedom researcher Rebecca MacKinnon describes in her latest TED talk, democratic values like freedoms of speech have started to slip. As countries fight back terrorism, she says, human rights have fallen by the wayside because of increased censorship. People have slowly become dissatisfied with the shortcomings of democracy, as their countries curtail crucial civil liberties.

According to research duo Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk, only about 30 percent of American millennials believe living in a democracy is “essential,” down from 72 percent of those born before World War II. What’s more, 24 percent of American millennials find democracy to be “bad” or “very bad” for the country, compared to 13 percent of millennials in Germany, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Romania, Poland and the United Kingdom. That’s according to nearly 30,000 respondents under the age of 36 — all mined from the World Values Survey, which asks people worldwide about their values and beliefs.

Millennials in these countries are beginning to question their once-precious freedoms, with a widening generational gap to boot. As the trend of “serious democratic disconnect” continues, long-standing democracies may be tested. Even so, the results reveal only a minority of millennials are fed up with democracy. Longer-term studies will be needed to determine whether democracy’s millennial malaise will fester or dissipate, says Foa, a political science professor at the University of Melbourne and principal investigator of the World Values Survey.

After all, it’s also possible that current events are fueling today’s dissatisfaction, says MacKinnon in her TED Talk. For example, the fear of global terrorism may be driving the desire for autocratic rule, perceived as more secure — even at the cost of human rights. You can tell us what you think in the comments — at least you have that for now.

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