Boring Facts about Democracy

A brief follow-up after the previous post about democracy. These facts are expected and, thus, boring, but they are numbers, and only numbers show the seriousness of what the world is talking about in words.

The data comes from the same World Values Survey (WVS). The questions of interest:

  • people’s democratic values (1 — democracy is very good; 4 — very bad),
  • their autocratic values, when they appreciate “a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections” (1 — autocracy is very good, 4 — very bad),
  • the state of democracy as perceived by respondents in respective countries (1 — non-democratic country; 10 — democratic one).

Autocracy–Democracy Frontier

Preferences for strong leaders and democratic governance correlate. Some countries prefer both democracy and strong leaders that ignore democratic institutions:

(Egypt was excluded from the regression.)

Democratizations haven’t changed political values

According to the WVS, the worldwide (mean) political values haven’t changed much over the recent two decades, despite the world becoming more democratic after 1991:


Democracy remains a value in unstable times

The sample below includes a country if the WVS conducted surveys before and after interesting changes happened in that country. Keep in mind that a higher value on these scales corresponds to a lower opinion of the respective idea:

democ_autoc_dyn_12Egypt values the idea of a strong leader more after the Arab Spring—they had pretty tough times there. Iraqi people react in a similar way. Instability associated with the onset of democracy creates demand for strong leaders, but after all, no country in this sample values democracy less.

People defend their values

Do countries successfully reach the government system their populations prefer? At first sight, they don’t:


If nations could establish democracy when they liked it, the red line would have a negative slope. In fact, a subset of countries on the right has a negative slope. It’s the Philippines and Arab countries that make the main line horizontal. But this data was collected basically during the Arab Spring, and it doesn’t account for all the changes.

Anyway, this chart is interesting since we should expect discontent in the south-west quadrant—and discontent is there.