Faith in democracy falls

Written By: - Date published: 8:12 am, December 1st, 2016 - 42 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, democratic participation, political education - Tags: ,

Interesting piece on Stuff yesterday:

Young westerners across the world losing faith in democracy – even in New Zealand

But new research reveals our faith in democracy is faltering in a similar pattern to one seen overseas.

The crucial chart:


Update: Treat this data with caution – see discussion under comment 6.

42 comments on “Faith in democracy falls”

  1. esoteric pineapples 1

    We are moving into a new paradigm of a post-truth age where the only law is “might is right” – get ready for World War III. If/when that happens it will be the end of all the old religions – Judaeism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc. Ridding them will be essential for the future spiritual progress of mankind.

    • ropata 1.1

      Organised religion is a human artefact and subject to human flaws. Upgrade the human soul and our institutions will suddenly work a lot better.

      Anyway, the main religion of modern civilization is money and power. Human greed corruption and selfishness is what ails us, not some dusty old theologians.

      Caveat: I acknowledge that the toxic fascist “Chirsitianity” in Trump’s USA is a danger to the world

      • aerobubble 1.1.1

        Humans have always been flawed, soul or not. Politics emerged with the breakdown of religion which fail to provide conscientiousness precisely because religionous inability to find wrong with faith.

        Religion for me is a means for loathsome people to engage in power games in isolation apart from civil society, this is why having a edict that no office can restrict via religious test works so well. There is nthing more humiliating to a soul scrapper than be exposed for transgresions and no way they wil be if religious dominate.

        i welcome all creeds, most especially moderate religious because they have finely honed moral and ethical bullshit detectors from close study of their pious breathen.

    • wellfedweta 1.2

      And you’ll achieve that how? Kill all the Jews? Oh wait, Germany tried that. Persecute all the Christians? Oh wait, that was tried in China, Russia, and is currently the vogue across Muslim nations and even India. Religion will die when and if people who are religious find something more satisfying to fulfill the needs religion meets. Until then, it is alive and well.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 1.2.1

        cf: Garrett et al 2016. It will take evolutionary changes to eradicate false beliefs. People are poor by choice, the free market exists, and other sky fairies are probably safe for now.

        • wellfedweta

          “It will take evolutionary changes to eradicate false beliefs.”

          Evolutionary is simply change or development over time. How long do you estimate it takes to eradicate false beliefs? 1,000 years? 3,000 years?

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            I haven’t really been following evolutionary theory recently: the last time I checked, it’s characterised by periods of stasis and “explosive” change.

            That being so, predictions are useless.

            • wellfedweta

              Fair enough. The idea of ‘explosive’ change doesn’t actually fit that well with evolutionary theory, but it does fit the observable evidence. Still, that’s biological evolution, not social evolution.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                Neuroscience is not sociology.

                • wellfedweta

                  Religious belief is not entirely down to neuroscience.

                  • One Anonymous Bloke

                    Which one? Hinduism? The Church of Scientology? Neo-Liberal Economics? They can’t all be right at the same time, ergo some or most of them are false.

                    And that’s before we even get to eye witness evidence, which is often infuriatingly contradictory.

                    • wellfedweta

                      All of them. Any belief comes from a combination of influences, including family, culture etc. And of course you are correct about them not being able to all be right. All religions, indeed all belief systems, make exclusive truth claims that cannot all be correct.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      …the point being that now Garrett et al have demonstrated the role of the amygdala in what I guess is effectively confirmation bias, to be charitable.

                      The propensity to adopt self-serving lies is hard-wired into the brain. Maybe that’s why I’m getting the urge to cite Kanai et al’s findings re: the amygdala 😈

                    • Wikipedia: “Amygdala size has been correlated with cognitive styles with regard to political thinking. A study found that “greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala.”

                      So with the injection of growth hormone into these parts of the brain, the left & right can escalate their political support. Oh goodie. An excellent way to boost political polarisation. Politics isn’t yet sufficiently seen as a team sport, but this ought to do it.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Surely right wingers could achieve the same outcome by repeating lies to one another 😈

    • mikes 1.3

      “might is right”

      Yep, that pretty much sums up democracy – majority rules.

      Also, the question is not the greatest, essential for what or to what? i.e is democracy essential for life? probably not. Is it essential for the fairest representation of a population? Maybe..etc.

  2. Nick 2

    It’s not democracy that people have lost faith in….. It’s this thing political people have branded as democracy…. Take the US Democrats for example…. Using the word…. Brand only…. That’s what people have lost faith in.

  3. Ad 3

    If the economy is this good for this long, and the strata of society so set for so long, why is democracy “essential”?

  4. Stunned Mullet 4

    Was the data broken down by those that had/hadn’t lived outside a democracy ?

    Looks like it may just have been a junk study to gain some publication credits rather than anything serious.

  5. KJT 5

    Democracy is fine.
    Faith in our Western forms of rotating dictatorship, for the benefit of the corporate Oligarchs, is failing.
    Don’t see the Swiss losing faith in Democracy. But then, they actually have a Democracy.

  6. Gosman 6

    David Farrar has completed a far more nuanced analysis of the raw data behind that survey. Unsurprisingly it isn’t as bad as the media is making out

    • Yeah that graph is super misleading and you should take it down. For one thing, it doesn’t show there’s an interrupt between 0% and 25% on the y axis, for another, it’s measuring “number of people who rated the importance of democracy as a 10 on a 1-10 scale,” which is only meaningful data if you show it compared to the number of people who rate it a 1, or if you start overlaying all the various ratings onto the graph somehow.

      It’s more like “young people are not quite as fanatical about democracy as older people,” which you would expect as we’ve grown up with a lot of the negative effects of its darker sides, and seen a lot of tyrrany of the majority wielded against us, like for example in the Brexit vote.

      For once that’s some good work from Farrar at the link, showing it’s like a 3% dip from the last time the survey was conducted, which I would say is surprisingly low, all things considered.

      • r0b 6.1.1

        Added an update beneath the graph.

        There’s no “interrupt” on the y axis, it just starts at a clearly labelled non zero value (which is not uncommon).

        The background of the 1 to 10 scale is certainly useful. The graph “title” does clearly refer to ratings of “essential”, which would have been 10 on their scale, so it is what it says it is. But yes it would certainly have been useful to see other ratings as well for context.

        So – treat with caution and look into further if interested, but I wouldn’t say it was “super misleading”.

        • It’s not uncommon, no, but it is wrong not to show zero at the bottom, put a break the Y axis, and then show the data above that at whatever percentage it’s convenient to start at, and it doesn’t take up much extra space. You’re supposed to be very careful about misleading people with the visual of a graph because it takes the brain a lot more time to process the axes.

          Until you check the Y axis, it looks very much like millennials have next to no faith in government, lol. 🙂 It looks like in this case it’s bad coding of the site app that they’ve used to make the graph, as it takes a bit more effort to code in a break to graphs that don’t start at 0.

          I’m digging a bit and it looks like the original data source Farrar is referring to is the World Values Survey, at (The relevant variable is V140, “Importance of Democracy”) A better format for this data is actually a compounded bar graph, I’m just having issues getting PSPP to spit out the data in a format I’m used to to graph it. If I manage to get at it I’ll reply again with an alternative graph that actually shows what’s going on in a useful format.

          • r0b

            It’s not uncommon, no, but it is wrong not to show zero at the bottom,

            It’s not “wrong” at all, just different ways of doing things. E.g.

            Nice work on the data sources. From your comment below:

            more than 75% of kiwis agree that democracy is of at least average importance.

            Don’t you find that to be surprisingly weak support?

            • Matthew Whitehead

              I don’t disagree with the article that it makes sense to zoom in on the relevant area of a graph to show a change or trend clearly. I disagree that you can get away without putting a break in the Y axis to show clearly that you’ve left zero off the chart so that people can quickly see that you’ve zoomed in to the relevant area. People look at axes last thing on a graph or chart, so the visual of that break makes it clear what’s going on from the beginning. It’s a bad habit of graphing that seems to have gotten a lot worse lately as it’s annoying to program breaks into digital graphing. Even excel won’t let you do them.

              As to whether support for democracy in NZ is weak or not: Overall, NZ is very enthusiastic about democracy, outdoing both the Netherlands and the USA for supporting it at a 10/10 rating. We do have a larger group of dissenters (who think democracy is below average) than some other countries, but it’s a small group compared to the USA, in fact, and the same size as Australia’s.

              Likewise, among millenials, our dissenters are reasonably comparable to the US and Australia. The only significant difference is that Millenials in New Zealand are more willing to rate democracy 5/10 or 7/10, and much less willing to rate it 10/10, which is why we look like such an outlier on the graph on Stuff. This isn’t a surprising trend in comparing millenials to other generations, given the huge wealth disparity, but it’s interesting that it’s more pronounced in its effect on the number of enthusiastically pro-democracy Millenials in New Zealand. I can think of reasons why, but they’d rely on different explanations for why the trend isn’t so pronounced in the USA and Aussie, so it seems a little speculative.

              • The problem with such graphs is that they’re based on generalisations. Ask most people about their belief in democracy, they are likely to respond by reference to the principle rather than the practice.

                I noticed a couple of standardistas yesterday referred to our government as a tyranny. Yet it is a product of democracy. Bit like holding up a piece of coal & saying “Look at this white rock!”

                • I’d actually disagree with you a bit. I’d expect a much more enthusiastic response in New Zealand if we were purely talking about the principle of democratic government. I think a lot of people are talking about their feelings of the practice, ie. “politicians don’t listen to people like me,” when they give an average-to-low rating than they are about democratic government in general.

        • Turns out they have a web interface! I don’t know where exactly Stuff claims to have the GB data from, because the World Values Survey didn’t have GB data, but I’ve put in Germany for an EU perspective instead:

          Importance of Democracy

          That should be less misleading. Darker colours = more important, share of the bar is how many people hold that opinion, and bars are labelled by country. Green bars are milennials, blue is everyone.

          The WVS web data only has three categories for age, <30, 30-49, and 50+, so I can't break it down by decade like they've done using SPSS, but the <30 category correlates well with 1980s, as both are essentially "millenials".

          It's easy to see from this that even among millenials, more than 75% of kiwis agree that democracy is of at least average importance.

  7. save nz 7

    It’s not democracy at fault, its the corruption of that system of offering candidates that nobody wants to vote for, as they are owned by lobbyists. Anyone with new ideas seems to be smeared and spat out.

    Remove the lobbyists and money from the electoral system and people will respond to it and we will have a better planet and society.

  8. tc 8

    People are finally waking up to how rigged it is and how much BS the msm churn out.

    Guardians George Mobiots recent piece on the misinformation machine illustrates the paid for hate and denial industry at play to further the elites interests.

  9. mpledger 9

    The different age cohorts take are different meaning from the question. For older cohorts they mostly live in the country that issue their passport. For young people they can live in multiple countries some of which don’t issue their passport. So they are quite happy to live in other countries without democracy because they can always return to NZ which has a democracy.

    The question they should have asked was – Would you be ok if your home country was not a democracy?

  10. One Anonymous Bloke 10

    Evidence that the documented National Party strategy of discouraging electoral engagement works?

    Or are there other factors at play?

    • The lost sheep 10.1

      Given that after 6 years of National Government the % of eligible citizens voting rose by 3.7% at the 2014 election, you’d have to say that if any such strategy does exist, the evidence proves it is utterly failing to have the intended impact.

      Nothing to lose sleep over after all eh OAB?

      • One Anonymous Bloke 10.1.1

        Whereas I think political strategies bear fruit (or not) over decades.

        • The lost sheep

          Thinking on’t a bit more OAB, maybe the rise in voting numbers is a devilish cunning double blind?

          Knowing that the plan to induce electoral dis-engagement is ‘dirty politics’ and socially unacceptable, the Nats very cunningly instructed the Electoral Commission to do everything possible to facilitate and encourage voting, a ruse resulting in the increased vote I referenced.
          Said increase thus concealing the plan to reduce the vote!!!

          Firking genius eh?
          And it took a finely tuned brain like yours to rumble it. Respect!

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Your insight is truly beyond the realms of rightiness. Why are you such a stupid idiot?

            • The lost sheep

              Help me out of my imbecilic darkness OAB.

              Explain to me exactly how an increase in the popular vote in 2014 is evidence of a successful strategy by the National Government to ‘discourage electoral engagement’?

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                It’s a data point.

                You might as well consult tea-leaves.

                Union membership is up too. Shall we attach significance to that data point?

                • The lost sheep

                  So if I interpret you correctly, you are saying the Nats have an electoral strategy that will not produce significant beneficent results for decades?
                  Wow. That really is quite impressive in an evil kind of way.

                  Do you think THE LEFT has a equal and opposing strategy to increase the vote over a time frame of decades?

                  Man. Hope we will both be around to discuss the results of these highly nuanced long term strategies OAB!

                  • One Anonymous Bloke

                    I’m saying that this strategy has been known and applied for decades. I don’t think all Nats are on board. However, Lusk gets work so some of them are.

                    Whether it’s the sole problem or even effective as a strategy is another thing. I suspect the way ‘neoliberal’ economics tears at social fabric may have a more damaging effect, and have read research that suggests electoral apathy is linked to inequality too.

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