Transcript: Reinvigorating Democracy with Roberto Foa

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Turi: Today, we’re absolutely thrilled to be talking to Roberto Stephan. Follow-up Roberto is the university lecturer in politics and public policy at Cambridge and also co-director of the Cambridge center for the future of democracy and director of the UGov Cambridge center for public opinion research. He very recently, um, over the course of 2020 published two reports that we’re going to be looking at.

Today, the first is called global satisfaction with democracy published in January, 2020 and the second youth and satisfaction with democracy, which was just published in October, 2020, both with the Bennett Institute, Roberto, it’s a huge pleasure to have you on the party of podcast. Thanks for joining.

Roberto :Yes, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Turi: It help frame this conversation by giving me, uh, an overview of both reports. What. Where you looking at in each.

Roberto : So what we’re able to do doing this project is we’ve now gathered data from almost 5 million survey respond to across 177 countries of the world, going back a quarter of a century and most of the world and in Western Europe all the way back to 1973. So almost half a century of data. And. With this data set. What we’re able to do is not only have that expansive scope in time, time and in space. Uh, but we also have a much higher resolution. What I mean by that is that instead of having one survey observation per year, or even every few years, uh, we can get through this data set three, four, five, even 10 polling observations a year for some countries.

Uh, so that enables a really, really rich depth of analysis. We found an office report that satisfaction with the performance of democracy across the world has fallen by about 10 percentage points since the mid 1990s. And actually since 2005, it’s a much larger than a decrease in satisfaction, but about 19 percentage point decrease to a situation where today for the first time, we can say that the majority of democratic systems across the world are dissatisfied with how their democracies are performing. Um, now obviously there’s big differences between countries and between regions and, uh, it’s not necessarily the case that in every country or every region, uh, the things have been getting worse. Uh, and of course that also implies for some regions where things have been getting significantly worse, even the global picture.

Turi: So we’ll get into some of the regional differences and some of the demographic differences, um, in, in a little bit. But yes, the key piece is that we now have a majority of citizens in democratic countries who are dissatisfied with the way that democracies are running. Talk to us a little bit about what you found on the youth side.

Roberto : Sure. I mean, there is this theory, right? I mean, essentially. It’s not a new observation to say that, you know, young people are more dissatisfied or more critical with prevailing institutions than older age groups. Uh, this is something that’s been observed a little way back to comments by Greek philosophers.

I think it’s not necessarily surprising for many people that younger age groups are more dissatisfied with. Democracy than old age groups. I think that most people’s interpretation of that would be to say that, well, this is probably just a lifecycle effect that maybe people start out life critical and dissatisfied, but eventually as people grow up, uh, get an education and get a job and settle down, have a family, eventually, uh, individuals and mellow out, uh, to some degree and become more satisfied with the institutions in which they live. So I think one of the real key findings from our recent report is that that, that doesn’t actually doesn’t seem to be the case. That what we see is the millennials are not only much more dissatisfied with democracy than, uh, baby boomers are today, but they’re also much more dissatisfied that generation X or baby boomers had been at the same stage in life.

Right. So, what that suggests to us is that this is really a generational effect. This is actually a profound shift that is likely to assist over the course of the life cycle, over the course of the lifespan and reflects, uh, the objective circumstances in millennial lives compared to how baby boomers had in the past.

Turi: That’s exactly what I want us to dig into. Um, but one thing to be absolutely clear and to clarify is that this satisfaction with democracy is absolutely not the same thing as anti democratic set at sentiment is it, you can be dissatisfied with democracy because you hope that democracy could deliver more for you, but there is a link isn’t there between those that anti-democratic sentiment and that dissatisfaction.

Roberto : That’s absolutely right. And it’s one thing that is incredibly important. We always highlight it up front in the report. And we’ve mentioned it in context, such as this, that. Uh, we are not measuring people’s satisfaction with democracy in the abstract as an ideal. What these survey questions measure is people’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction with how democracy is performing.

But I think the best way of thinking about this is in terms of a process of disillusionment. That in the first step people become dissatisfied with how democratic institutions warming. They don’t like the look of existing political parties or candidates. People become more apathetic or withdrawn from politics, more cynical. Um, but it’s only really in a kind of second stage of disillusionment that individuals become prepared to endorse anti-system candidates who say that they’re going to overthrow the existing system of representative government, uh, where individuals become attempted that by, by a more populist antiestablishment platform and perhaps even actively hostile to certain the liberal democratic norms.

Turi: That’s fascinating. It feels as if certain, uh, Eastern European countries have gone down that road. There’s that interesting move whereby you can be profoundly dissatisfied with the democratic processes in your country, which for something else, and then be satisfied with the institutions of a non democratic or less democratic state. Are there equivalent research papers that have looked at what people are satisfied with in non-democratic countries?

Roberto : Yes, such research does exist and that there are a lot of questions about satisfaction with government that can be applied in non-dairy non-democratic countries, as well as in democracies to try and have some basis for comparison and compare it to the analysis that, um, I think in general, the way to think about this is in terms of how do you define quality of government?

And one aspect of quality of government is. It’s green and democratic, uh, representation and features that are associated with them overseas, that people value citizens values such as having freedom of speech, um, having human rights and not being afraid that there’ll be a knock on the door in the middle of the night, and you’d be careful, but there are other aspects or quality of government that perhaps democratic machines can still perform quite well. Uh, including rule of law, uh, potentially control of corruption. Uh, perhaps delivery of public services and of course, uh, delivery of economic growth, which is something of fundamental importance systems in many developing democracies,

Turi: helpful. I wonder whether you might give us a whistle-stop tour around the world of the key findings that you’ve discovered. So in no particular order, can we start with, um, could we start with Africa? There is a particular trends there, which I think are really interesting.

Roberto : So, and I like this approach, I have to say, I really don’t like, uh, generalized theories to explain complex phenomenon. I think that’s very much a mistake of intellectuals to fixate on a master theory when really there are only temporary sub theories. So anyway, to start with Africa, then, um, Well, I think that the case of Subsaharan Africa, when we look at the trends of the last couple of decades, whereas South Africa satisfaction with democracy was very, very high. In the 1990s, you had a real wave of euphoria following democratic transitions during that era. And what has happened since is a kind of fading of that euphoria, essentially that, um, As, uh, the democratic transition has happened as new governments in Nigeria, rural South Africa, uh, had to struggle with problems of corruption was problems of, uh, disappointing expectations regarding, you know, public goods, delivery delivery of free healthcare, uh, delivery of jobs, unemployment being a huge problem across the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Um, I think that you’ve started to have a process now where, uh, Africans. And in particular, younger generation of Africans have started to become more critical all of the performance of that democratic institutions.

Turi: Okay. So that sort of explains, uh, um, the, the arc of dissatisfaction to some extent across Sub-Saharan Africa. What’s what does the middle East look like? Which has had obviously very, very interesting, almost democratic tilt in 2009 in Iran and 11 across the rest of the middle East, where what’s what’s happened there.

Roberto : Well, I mean, all survey data on democratic satisfaction for the middle East is limited to the fairly small number of countries. And that’s partly a story about what happened since the Arab spring, in the sense that it was only really in Tunisia, that we’ve seen, uh, a genuine democratic transition. Most of the country in the Arab spring, uh, lapsed either into civil war, which we saw in Syria, Olivia, uh, or into a more authoritarian repression. Strikes or protests in places like Saudi Arabia or some of the other Gulf States very quickly put down. So in terms of the survey data, I think that it’s important to point out. We can only really look at places like Tunisia. We have longstanding dates, Lebanon, and then in the non Arab middle East. So in Turkey or in Israel or in Iran, um, then we also do have some data from those places as well, essentially.

Uh, I would say if I just stick with Junius, you know, which I think is really the country. This is most important in this regard, uh, as a bellwether for other countries in the region, not just the McGrath, um, you’ve had a kind of process of disillusionment in the sense that, um, they have struggled to establish stable party system, but it’s still very early on. So if you look at the data, yeah, it is a very clear majority of citizens. Who’ve been dissatisfied fairly consistently, uh, over the last decade. But it’s probably still too early in the transition process to know for sure.

Turi: Okay. Moving to Latin America, which struck me in your report as being particularly disheartening, 80% in Brazil and Mexico dissatisfied with, with, with democracy, what’s gone on there. It’s the sort of, it’s the continent, which has consistently failed to deliver on the democratic score. Isn’t it? Despite a couple of hundred years of history.

Roberto : That’s right. I mean, many countries in Latin America are among the first to move towards representative government, really sit in the Americas. Uh, and I think that, uh, the case of Latin America more recently, I think that the euphoria of the transition away from ministry role back to democracy in the 1980s that had already started to fade by the 1990s. But there was this almost globalism period Rose period. That way of expressing it in the early two thousands during the so-called pink tide and Latin America, where for, to time you had a series of left wing, uh, governments, uh, sent to left to HOD left. Some were populists, some were motorists, uh, as he cheated. Uh, but what you had, uh, during that time was a sense that, um, These new governments might be able to transition Latin America to a more social democratic model, a small, similar to Southern Europe, perhaps, and overcome some of the regions and trends, challenges with respect to inequality in particular.

And so I think that there was this very brief period in the first decade of the 21st century where democratic satisfaction in Latin America finally seem to be rising. Um, but unfortunately that fell apart very, very quickly following the financial crisis. And in particular, following the commodities passed, which, uh, really, you know, revealed many of the weaknesses in the model of government or of, um, many of these vocalists or many of these pink tide leaders.

Turi: Asia seems to be a particularly bright spot where there is, um, ongoing satisfaction and growing satisfaction with democracy. Roberto : Yes. And I think that you have to really separate out different parts of Asia because there’s slightly different picture in different places. So I think in Northeast Asia, so if you look at South Korea or Taiwan, to some extent, um, this is actually much more driven by, um, a civic mobilization efforts and, uh, kind of, uh, elite replacement. This has cooks. I mean, in South Korea, you know, you have massive CITIC mobilization against corruption during the last decade. Uh, and then, um, during the candle light revolution, uh, and then, uh, getting rid of some of the old costs, all politicians, civil servants, bureaucrats. So you have been running the system up until then.

Um, and I think that’s a very different picture from what’s going on in say Southeast Asia. So Southeast Asia transition is not more recent in countries like Indonesia. So you still have to euphoria transition, uh, to some extent, but you also have improvements in other ways. So, yeah, I think that under this regime and Indonesia corruption, grand corruption, It was so widespread and in a sense, things could only get better through the transition to democracy. And even though there is a lot of corruption still in Indonesia today, um, it’s improved quite substantially since compared to where it was two decades ago. Um, so I think the, you know, the picture of Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia is quite different. Um, I think the South Asia. Uh, again, it’s a different picture entirely. Yes, probably. We have to treat all those countries separately. I mean, India is, is quite unique in comparison to those other countries because of its Democrat long democratic history, uh, relatively stable, democratic history, um, and positive that euphoria, which I think is shared across Southeast Asia and South Asia, um, simply relates to.

Uh, breakneck economic growth and new economic opportunities. And the fact that people’s lives improving in a very objective and measurable sense.

Turi: So from that bright spot, um, let’s go to, to North America and the U S particularly align in your first report struck me. You said that. Some countries that were previously thought to be consolidated in their support for democracy. And then there, um, in that satisfaction with democracy, you gave the examples as Greece chili or even the United States may have partly deconsolidated in recent years. The suggestion here is that the us whose very identity seems premised on participatory democracy, maybe untethering itself from a vision of its founding at some point.

Roberto : Yeah. And this being, I mean, so much ink has been spilled around this topic. Uh, five years. It’s difficult to know what to say at this point that it hasn’t already been said about American democracy, but indeed, I mean, we’ve always had this idea here and for this was science of democratic consolidation, essentially the idea is that, um, you know, Countries moved from authoritarianism to democracy during the initial years, uh, things on stable, there are still many individuals in society who support the previous, uh, system of government and would be prepared to support a return to that system of government, both among systems, but crucially also among key, um, Elite actors, perhaps in the army, even in the judiciary and the social service and so on.

And so that makes countries vulnerable to democratic backsliding, whether it’s due to another recoup, whether it’s usually the election of a anti-system populist or some other, um, some other process by which democracy can break down. So the idea of democratic solidation is eventually you reach a point. Uh, after generation, perhaps two generations while you’re starting to have peaceful power, uh, there are a few, few individuals who remember any other way of running the country. There are no individuals that’s nostalgia, therefore for a previous pre democratic era, um, and no individuals in the army or anywhere else who, um, disagree with the principle of civilian military separation of powers, separation and calling.

So the idea is that at that point, democracies become consolidators. Uh, there’s really no possibility of a shift to a non democratic system of government because there is no body to actually drive that change. Um, and I think that, uh, at that point in time, of course, people may be very satisfied with democracy. And I think that the idea of democratic consolidation is an idea that has some old fool in the pause. Over the last four or five years or so? Uh, precisely because we’ve seen how in many of the world’s longstanding and established democracies, it is possible for politicians to start violating the informal and the wants of democracy.

Such as conceding in election being, uh, a recent salient example, um, as well as potentially some of the more formal, uh, norms of democracy, uh, which, you know, include respecting, um, freedom of expression, uh, freedom to organize, uh, freedom to mobilize reading, to contest elections, uh, and respecting electoral integrity, right?

Not trying to exclude individuals, uh, from their right to vote. So I think in all of those ways, we’re aware now, Oh, how established democracies also susceptible to many of the pressures that developing democracies are not established and all consolidated democracies have always faced. Um, so I guess to come back then to the United States, I mean, tons of what does our data show about the United States? Well, um, you can see that, you know, since the mid 1990s satisfactory democracy in the United States has absolutely plunked, uh, it’s one of the sharpest drops and the United States has actually gone from a situation where in the mid 1990s, America was actually one of the most satisfied countries with the performance of this democracy in the world.

Right. We look at data from around 1995, uh, satisfaction with democracy. You had about three quarters of Americans satisfied with how democracy was performing. Um, and that’s going to a situation where today a majority of Americans are dissatisfied with how democracy is performing. So it’s a big shift. Um, and I think in terms of the story about why has that happened?

Um, I mean, I think you’ve got it. You know, again, this may not be an area where I can add much to what has already been said, but I think simply the, you know, the cycle of polarization and partisanship, I guess really began with Gingrich Gingrich cleanser, uh, in the 1990s, but has continued ever since, um, perhaps reached its apex on to Trump.

Uh, but we never say you’ve passed the peak until, uh, until your shortly. So it has reached they local Optima or the opposite is not the right word, but has reached a liquid peak for Trump, the Trump era. Um, so the cycle of pauses on ship, uh, polarization, uh, the combination of that with social media. Uh, and its effects on political debates combined again with the nature of the U S electoral system, uh, which is a majority Tarion system. It leaves a lot of people in States where they have much influence will have an effect. Uh, they’re huge problems. Of, um, electoral integrity in many respects. Uh, so people’s ability to vote, right? Actual efforts to suppress the vote in the United States. Uh, and as we’ve seen recently, uh, there’s certainly a lot of doubts in the U S public, uh, not least of all sewed by, um, Well, I Trump and others around him, uh, regarding, uh, the integrity, uh, ballot counting process.

So when those perceptions are starting to erode, uh, then you know, that’s very dangerous for a democracy and it clearly relates to a broader culture of dissatisfaction with how democratic institutions operate.

Turi: That’s fascinating. Um, just to, just to clear up. Yeah. The point you made about majority Marion, uh, political political system. It’s what we have, uh, in the UK as well. It’s, it’s the idea that there is one of only two parties that will ever win. And you have a first past the post system, which disenfranchise is, um, in a sort of powerful way, a whole lot of people in majority X or majority Y States or. Burroughs or constituencies.

Um, and there’s some data that suggests going to the macro at this point. Um, although I know you don’t like macro theories, but actually that majority Marion systems of government tend to encourage dissatisfaction with democracy. They don’t help much the Anglo-Saxon, uh, political model may not be the best in this regard.

Roberto : That’s right. And I should stress at this point that there isn’t a long academic literature on this topic going back several decades, um, specifically on the relationship between majority terrorism, uh, proportional representation, satisfaction with democracy. So that’s not necessarily something new that we discovered.

Um, but it is something that really jumps out from the data. So when we look at the most satisfied, uh, countries in the world with the democratic institutions, democracies, and Scandinavia, or the Netherlands, um, they are. By and large all countries operate proportional representation and proportional representation.

I mean, as a system of, uh, voting for representatives, um, it is a system that is by definition, representative by definition, uh, whichever party you support, you can vote for that party. And they have to clear generally a very low threshold in order to get some representation. In parliament and because it’s also, um, it tends to produce very fragmented. Let’s just, let’s just choose. Um, you tend to have coalition government very often in PR systems. And what that says that, what that means is not only do you have a good chance of being represented in parliament, but you also have a good chance that your party, you support the innocence of a fairly minor party might actually be represented in governments as well. Um, but yeah.

Turi: So let’s take this as an excuse to go to come into Europe now, and to talk perhaps a little about the countries in Europe, because they feel that many of them are in Europe, um, that do show high levels of satisfaction with democracy. Um, Uh, because there’s a very interesting mix there. There’s the, there’s the old fashioned liberal democracies that you you’ve just flagged Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, et cetera. But there’s also quite a lot of satisfaction with democracy in what we might think of as illiberal populist countries like Poland.

Roberto : Yes. Yes. And this is actually part of an interesting phenomenon that relates to I called the cycle of populism. It’s, uh, which is a bit of a generalized theory. So you’ll have to excuse me for that, but it is tenderly this idea that, um, you know, populous parties tend to break through in democracies that are failing at representation. That you have a large proportion of people in society whose political views values are being ignored. Uh, perhaps that’s because you have a majority Marion system where you have boats and you know, the North of England or in the American Midwest, too. I mean, taken for granted by, uh, Major political parties that has not been until recently swing States. They obviously are now, but we’ll come back to that. Um, so you have a large portion of individuals who feel that they’re being represented and they feel that way because they’re not. Because in some sense, that’s true that the nature of the system does leave a lot of individuals unrepresented.

Turi: Let’s just, can I just interrupt because it’s, it’s a point that you make over and again, which is that actually this dissatisfaction with democracy that you’ve charted around the world, you describe as rational. It is actually based on a series of perceived and real failures.

Roberto : Yes, that’s right. I mean, it’s something that’s often, um, often irritated me in discussions around survey research is I think there’s a tendency to over explain people’s survey responses. Um, when really the simplest explanation is just to take people literally. Um, I can remember, for example, the conversation I was having at a conference a year or two back, uh, about the topic of, well, why do people vote for Brexit? And you actually kingdom 2016, and you, you get, you got a panel of people who go through all kinds of theories about, you know, left behind working class about immigration, about resentment against globalization.

I can remember saying, I think the reason why most people voted for Brexit because they us to leave the European union. Um, we can, we can have a debate about how people came to that opinion, right. And that might go back to issues about liberalization and about migration and so on. And that’s fine. Um, but we have to start from the approximate, uh, cause, which is the actual attitudes that individuals hold, uh, and we’ll vote on the basis of, in a referendum like that. So I think on the issue about satisfaction with democracy, I think it is rational. People are responding to that question cognitively in terms of how they think about the performance of their institutions. Um, and I think the evidence of that is that there’s just such a strong covariance between objective measures of how democratic institutions are functioning. Such as, you know, transparency, international corruption index or worldwide. I think the best evidence of that is that there’s such a high covariance between, uh, people’s, uh, subjective perception of how democracy is performing and the war. So to speak objective indicators produced by experts, such as corruptions perception, uh, indices or measures of quality of government.

Like that is the worldwide governance indicators, which is so, you know, in countries like Switzerland and Denmark, where institutions function very well, people are very, very satisfied with their institutions and in countries where institutions are failing in various ways, uh, such as in Latin America, over the last couple of decades. Um, those are the countries where dissatisfaction is high and indeed very often increasing. So, uh, I think people are rational in how they respond to that.

Turi: Can I bring you back to the question of satisfaction with illiberal democracies in Eastern Europe?

Roberto : Yes. Yes. I mean, I think that you basically have a cycle of populism. So the first stage is that you have a democracy in which people feel like they’re not represented. Then you have a populist politicians who are able to break through because they appeal to those people who feel like they don’t have a voice to exclude it. They say, I will be your voice. Um, and eventually many cases such populous politicians get elected. And at the point at which Republic, this politician is elected, right? If we think about, you know, when a child has been selected as Venezuela, that’s awful at that point in time, uh, at that moment, It is a more representative outcome. In the sense that very often populists are popular. And very often many of the things they propose are popular policies that the existing prior, uh, political establishment, um, has refused to take for various reasons, not least of all, because sometimes they may be catastrophic policies to pursue in the long run. So. At that point in time, you tend to have this euphoric phase. I think during the first term of a populous leader, Donald Trump was the big exception in our data, but in almost every other country where populists was elected during the Fs, you tend to see a really big increase in satisfaction with democracy.

Um, and sometimes that follows through as well into a second. Um, uh, generally doesn’t follow through into the, um, So I think part of what we see in Eastern Europe where you mentioned countries like Hungary or Poland, where the liberal politicians have broken through, I think they’re still at that stage and Hungary may be reaching the end of that stage right now, but they’re still in that stage where people feel that openness represent the silent majority.

Turi: So Roberto, if people are rational in being dissatisfied with democracy, focusing only on the developed West Europe and the U S Canada, why is democracy failing that? Why are institutions failing?

Roberto : Well, I think it’s useful to think about how society and the economic structure has changed over the last generation. And what I would say is that in Western societies, there are two deep inequalities that have emerged. Uh, in the course of several decades, the first is the spacial divide, regional divided between all the one hand, the successful cosmopolitan global cities like London, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, San Francisco, that you can see, and you can see objectively in the data. If you download the data from the OECD, uh, regional, uh, quantum UX side, you can see that income per capita is absolutely shot higher. Uh, in the sixties, right. Uh, then, you know, in London, today in Compaq, after, or something like 80,000 photos, whereas on the other hand, you know, somewhere like Wales, uh, it’s about a third of that.

So when you have a situation in countries where these huge spacial inequalities between the successful global cities and the left behind rural and ex industrial areas, um, that, uh, creates, uh, a justified and legitimate resentment. And that resentment has come out now, uh, both in terms of people’s dissatisfaction with what, how democracies are performing. Uh, and indeed stablish policies are performing now the second inequality, and this really relates to our second report, uh, is the intergenerational divide. So there is now a huge wealth gap between millennials on one hand and baby boomers, essentially on the other, uh, that is extremely wide. And so, you know, whereas in the United States, uh, you know, millennials account for something like 4%, three to 4% of wealth, but when baby boomers were at the same age, they had closer to 20% of national wealth.

So, uh, there is this deep intergenerational inequality that has developed. And that is why I say one of the key reasons why, uh, we see, uh, this pervasive dissatisfaction among younger generations in the West. Turi: So let’s now open that up, looking very specifically at the younger generations in the developed West who are expressing much, much higher levels of dissatisfaction with democracy than any of their peers, any of that any other generation has done at that age? How has that being articulated? How do you see that? Not just in the data, but in the ways that, um, that that generation expresses itself politically.

Roberto : Well, I think actually the main expression of that is through apathy. Um, and I think that’s something people very often miss when they look at a election, some people do election studies and they say, well, okay, you know, the proportion of people who voted for Trump was this, that among this age group portion of people who voted for Biden or Clinton years is this. And very often ignoring the fact that, you know, by far the most common electoral behavior in the United States among young people is not. Uh, people don’t turn out to vote. I think that the most common expression of that, uh, politically is not being joining political party is, uh, not voting in elections because we put a racy that that’s a possibility of representation or parties.

Politicians don’t appeal to them every now and then I think this is really a new phenomenon the last five years. And we started to see cases where, uh, populous politicians, particularly on the left. But not exclusively, but more commonly on the left have managed to tap into youth dissatisfaction. They don’t want it to mobilize and contest and sometimes even win elections. So that’s something we’ve seen very clearly in Southern Europe. Uh, we saw it in Greece with series a, we see it in Spain with GMOs. Uh, we see it in Italy with the five-star movement. And we also saw it of course, in the UK, uh, with the Corbin wave that culminates suppose in 2017

Turi: one, because of this general youth dissatisfaction. Is the intergenerational divide, this massive wealth gap that you described. What are the other drivers of that dissatisfaction amongst youth in these developed democracies? Roberto : Well, I think that the wealth and the economic factors are at the heart of it, because I mean, a lot basically stems from that, that when you’re in a situation where you go through life, you start out life with really high levels of debt, uh, due to cost of student fees. Uh, there are a few very few available jobs. Uh, only a very limited pool of high paying jobs in finance or tech or other knowledge sectors. Most people end up. Struggling, uh, jobs that pay a lot less and maybe don’t use, uh, make best use of, uh, academic credentials that people have quiet. Uh, when you have a situation where rents are extremely high, don’t people have difficulty getting on the housing market, uh, getting on the housing ladder.

Um, I think that, you know, and ultimately people have difficulty starting out in life. And I think this was a really important factor that, uh, you know, if you reach your thirties and you’re not able to afford. To have a house, have a family move on to the next stage in life, uh, that can create a great deal of, um, uh, kind of latent dissatisfaction.

Turi: One of your reports, you mentioned climate change. There is a sense that climate change is so very urgent that it might require non-democratic forms of response. Does that feed into that youth dissatisfaction too?

Roberto : Well, I want to, um, back up a moment there, because I think that a lot of democracies are taking quite radical action on climate change. And of course, one of the reasons why climate change as an issue Rose to prominence in the 1980s and nineties was precisely because of democratic representation because green parties in Europe, getting votes from other parties that shifted or centrist parties towards an environment, including here in the UK. So I think that necessarily is the case that democracy is. Fail to take action on climate change. However, um, I do acknowledge that there is a sort of philosophical point here, uh, which is that in democracy, uh, future generations that are represented. Interactions. Um, and that has agenda some fear that perhaps democracies can’t be fully serviced and deep democracies can be short term taking policies that benefit living over the, as yet on board. Um, so I think that’s a, you know, uh, that can be a valid point, uh, but there are really not many alternatives unless you’re lucky enough to have a very forward looking, uh, technocratic elite, uh, into which you’re prepared to place you a place of authority and trust and power. Uh, but that’s quite a gamble.

Turi: So beyond often left-wing populism, are there any forms of government that you find? Um, young people support as an alternative to democracy when they are dissatisfied, as they seem to be.

Roberto : You see the full spectrum actually. And I think this is one of the interesting things, right? Not written about this directly. Yes, but I mean, there was, for example, a great Hugo poll that’s been running since 2017 where they don’t only ask people, um, you know, wherever they think democracy is, you know, Better or worse or as good or bad as other systems of government, but then they had a follow up question, you know, it was just like, well, if you, if you, if you think that has a better system of government and democracy, uh, what is it?

And I think what was really interesting was that the officers were just all over the place, right? Revolutionary socialism. Absolutely. Absolutely just monarchy army rule too, you know, some form of true direct, uh, participative democracy. So I think that what that says to me is bad, right? Yeah, there’s a lot of individuals out there who are disillusioned with or existing institutions, but have not really settled cognitively on an alternative.

And I think that’s also that that’s actually quite dangerous in some ways, because in some ways I think that’s what gives populist politicians an in. Because populist politicians are able to articulate something they could package as being true democracy, uh, which at the same time actually undermines some of the norms of liberal democratic.

Turi: But the mere fact that such a large number of young people are looking for alternatives to democracy is frightening to a centrist liberal Democrat like me.

Roberto : Yes. Um, but I think at the same time, I think it’s important to situate oneself. In the, what the meaning of democracy and how the meaning of democracy has changed at the time. So I think that when many young people are asked about democracy, What people have in mind is the system of a calling Croucher called post democracy of the 1990s. And even two thousands. To some extent, that is to say a democratic system where, uh, this. Yeah, two main parties, let’s say who have very little difference between them on key economic and social questions liberal, or maybe even neoliberal consensus on most issues. And most politicians are really a sort of professional glass who are trained being politicians, uh, rather than as used to be the case in the cost. Uh, individuals. Rather unique backgrounds and values who maybe went into politics after sometimes meant a business or working in trade unions or in churches or charities or the army, but essentially somewhere outside of politics, rather than simply going straight into the politics of a university, uh, after being a special advisor for a while.

So I think that when young people get the question, a younger generations got the question about democracy. If people are expressing dissatisfaction with that particular model, Of democratic politics, um, which is not to say and what that, you know, there’s actually a potentially fairly optimistic interpretation of that, which is to say that well, if we are returning to a more contested form of politics, we’re returning to a form of politics where there are actually deeper divides between the political parties and where issues are actually coming back into contention that might actually increase people’s satisfaction with how democracies and people with my field that within established democratic politics, there is actually something with contesting.

Turi: Yeah, exactly. It feels as if that there’s dissatisfaction with democracy is in fact dissatisfaction with what you’ve just described as post democracy. That in fact, what they want is what we all want is more obsessed on Portman, not more polarization, but more contestation, greater choice.

Roberto : Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the points that I always try and make is that, you know, populace often writes about somethings and populist is successful because half of what they say is true. So when populists describe the failings of democratic system, populous will say that, well, you know, there’s a closed elite as a clique that individuals don’t have much chunks of, you know, actually changing anything really, uh, you know, the, the role of money and politics is pervasive, uh, special interests.

And you know, all of those are true. But they, that was about it points. Uh, on of course they’re true in some countries than others, I would say maybe true in the United States than in the UK and may be true in the UK, the Denmark. But, um, you know, these are all valid points and say, I think that part of the dissatisfaction with democracy can be a constructive force to improve our democracies. Uh, and that even, uh, this is a more contentious point that even populous politicians in office, Uh, sometimes have the ability to actually implement a good meaningful reforms, sometimes populists in office, do moderate that platform and return to a more conventional home of politics that is constructive rather than destructive

Turi: Roberto that’s a very positive note on which to sort of begin to wrap up here. What I’m hearing here is your recommendations might be. Non-majority Marion political systems, which allow for a greater multiplicity of political voices, some in some way, embracing greater contestation polarization is the wrong word because it implies so much hatred of the other side, but at least more contestation or more ideas, more of a Barney about what a democracy should be about in order to reinvigorate it.

Roberto : Absolutely. And if I look at countries that I think on the right track and getting out of the current populous wave, I think the way you have proportional representation that produces coalitions between new populous challenges and established quantities, um, that often is quite healthy. Uh, so I think that what you see in Italy, Uh, with the current coalition, uh, between the five-star movements and the PD, uh, or what you see in Spain, uh, with most now, um, in some ways this is healthy because it brings more iteration into populist parties. Uh, it brings people who previously felt excluded, uh, in back into democratic politics. Uh, and at the same time, there is still some potential there to really implement needed social and political reforms.

Turi: About to, can I end with a question, uh, at the macro level, about 15 years ago, Bob Kagan, the political theorist wrote a book called the return of history and his broad thesis was that the 21st century was going to be an ideological debate between successful autocracies. I think he had China. Very much in mind and messy inefficient democracies. And that 21st century was going to be a fight to see which one of those two political systems, one out around the world. Do you think that’s true. And do you think that the kind of dissatisfaction that we’re seeing now with democracy in democratic States suggests that there is a backsliding that could lead to, um, the China model prevailing.

Roberto : Uh, my short answer is no. And my reason for saying no is because I think the premise is wrong. Uh, I think that what we see in the 21st century is on the one hand, a mix of let’s say more functional, uh, effective autocracies such as China or Vietnam. Uh, and autocracies that clearly are quite messy. Um, such as, uh, well, I don’t know Iran, or maybe messier examples.

Let’s just kind of Suela today might be. A better example of that. Um, and then on the other hand, you have democracies democracies, all quite functional, uh, in Scandinavia, Switzerland and mushroom in Europe, or indeed Northeast Asia, Korea, for example, Japan. Uh, so I think that we have quite functional democracies in the world today.

And we also have some dysfunctional democracies United States by no means. What about that list? Uh, I mean, uh, if you think about countries in Latin America or parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, So I think that the 21st century, um, it’s, uh, it’s not going to be a contest between two models. Uh, it’s going to be a contest to prove quality of government, uh, regardless of the machine type. The other thing that I would say is that, you know, I prefer not to think in terms of democracies on one hand and not democracies on the other. Because, I mean, you have a huge variation in the degree of democracy among Western democracies, direct democracy in Switzerland. On one hand, there’s this majority aneurysm, uh, you know, parliamentary systems versus presidential systems, just given a lot of power to the executive.

Uh, so I think there’s a little variation within democracies. Uh, and I think there’s also a lot of variation among so-called authoritarians. Regimes. I don’t think that you can Pat somewhere like North Korea, uh, to Russia or even Iran, uh, there’s a lot of variation in authoritarian machines and extents, which there is from different political parties. Citizens can contest elections the degree to which there is a degree of public debate, uh, or indeed even electoral integrity. So I think that authoritarian regimes will also differ a lot on these kinds of dimensions. Um, so I don’t, I, I don’t think we can divide the world. Uh, simply into effective autocracy versus dysfunctional democracy.

Turi: Well, but that’s a wonderful way to end. What’s been very instructive and, um, and really interesting conversation about democracy and its future in the 20th century. Thanks so much for joining us.

Roberto : Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

This page was last edited on Wednesday, 24 Mar 2021 at 10:16 UTC