The Korea Herald


More than half of people in 24 countries dissatisfied with their democracy: report

South Korea was among the countries with growing support for 'rule by a strong leader,' decreasing approval for representative democracy, from 2017 to 2023

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Feb. 29, 2024 - 13:59

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Korea's National Assembly (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Korea's National Assembly (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

A survey by a US-based think tank on Thursday showed growing criticism of how democracy is working across 24 nations, with a median of 59 percent expressing dissatisfaction with how their democracy is functioning and a small minority even being open to a form of military rule.

Between Feb. 20 and May 22, 2023, the Pew Research Center surveyed 30,861 adults in 24 countries including South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Sweden, the UK and the US.

The figures in this article are median scores based on all of the results of each of the 24 countries.

Representative democracy, in which representatives that are democratically elected by the people decide the laws that govern the country, is still thought of in positive terms with a median of 77 percent across the 24 countries saying it was good. The respondents were asked to determine whether each type of government was either good or bad.

Some 70 percent also said direct democracy was good, while 58 percent said rule by experts was good.

But the survey showed that even dictatorship or military rule had a small percentage of supporters. Rule by a strong leader was seen as good by 26 percent, with at least a quarter of those surveyed saying it was good in 13 countries.

South Korea was among the countries in which the support for rule by a strong leader had increased, from 23 percent in 2017 to 35 percent in 2023. A 2021 survey by local pollster Real Meter showed that Park Chung-hee, the country's military dictator throughout the 1960s and 1970s, was the most popular ex-president of all time, with 32.2 percent of the respondents picking him.

Other countries with significant increases in positive views towards strong leaders were Germany (6 percent to 16 percent), Poland (15 percent to 25 percent), Argentina (17 percent to 27 percent) and India (55 percent to 67 percent).

Some 15 percent said they thought military rule was good, although the figure was generally not high among high-income countries. Still, 17 percent viewed military rule positively in Greece, Japan and the UK.

Even the US, which was not included in the 2017 survey, showed 26 percent approval for rule by a strong leader and 15 percent approval for military rule in 2023.

While the survey showed that people generally thought representative democracy was good rather than bad, not as many people thought that is was a "very good way to govern," with the figure declining significantly in 11 countries including India, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.

The drop for South Koreans was relatively modest, but it also decreased from 19 percent in 2017 to 17 percent in 2023.

The research indicated that the reason so many people are not satisfied with their own democracy is because they think politicians are out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. A median of 74 percent out of all 24 countries thought elected officials do not care what ordinary people think, with Sweden being the only country in which more people think their politicians care about what ordinary people think -- 56 percent -- than do not.

Only 26 percent of South Koreans thought elected officials care about what ordinary people think, as opposed to 73 percent who think they do not. The percentage of those who believe politicians care about what ordinary people think was particularly low for Argentina -- 14 percent -- the US and Spain -- both 15 percent.

A median of 42 percent across the 24 countries said none of the political parties in their country represents their views.

South Korea is among the over 60 countries holding a national election this year, with its legislative election slated for April 10.