Satisfaction with democracy in perspective: Anchoring today by looking back and forward

Pepijn van Houwelingen*, Paul Dekker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

The question of how satisfied people are with the workings of their national democracy has often been criticized but is still the international standard measurement of satisfaction with democracy (SWD). In this paper we explore the benefits of adding questions about remembered and expected satisfaction ‘ten years ago’ and ‘ten years from now’, as were asked in the ISSP citizenship surveys of 2004 and 2014. Based on the data from seventeen European countries, we find that national samples:

■ do not show universal ‘nostalgia’,

■ produce good guesses of past satisfaction but show no futurist insights,

■ give retrospective judgments that do not correlate well with changes in expert opinions,

■ give retrospective judgments that do not correlate well with changes in the share of the populist vote.

At the individual level we find:

■ that in almost all countries expected satisfaction with democracy ten years from now is a better predictor of political trust and feelings of political efficacy than satisfaction with democracy today,

■ that in almost all countries expected satisfaction with democracy ten years from now is a better predictor of the preference for populist voting (in one national case study),

We note that Poland is the only country in our sample where citizens were, in 2014, retrospectively more positive about the development of their democracy, probably due to the severe economic conditions Poland faced in 2004.

Overall, we do not find evidence for the relevance of retrospective judgements, but some evidence for the relevance of prospective judgements. We recommend further research into individual changes in present satisfaction and perceptions of these changes to better understand the frames of reference of ‘satisfaction with democracy today’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-26
JournalPolish Political Science Review
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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