Democracy is in trouble

Democracy is on the retreat globally. We have now entered what the Pew Research Centre has termed a global ‘democratic recession’ (Pew Research Center, 2017). Satisfaction with democracy is tipping around the world — there are now more authoritarian regimes than full democracies (Kellogg, Varieties of Democracy Project, 2018).

Australia has not been immune to this worldwide phenomenon. Despite 25 years of economic growth — which traditionally means increased satisfaction — Australians have grown more distrustful of politicians, sceptical about democratic institutions and disillusioned with democratic processes.

Declining satisfaction with democracy

Source: Australian Election Study 1996 to 2013 and Democracy 2025 from 2014 to the present

MoAD’s recent research, Trust and Democracy in Australia, shows in 2018 satisfaction in democracy has more than halved in a decade and trust in key institutions and social leaders is eroding.

By 2025 if nothing is done and current trends continue, fewer than 10 per cent of Australians will trust their politicians and political institutions — resulting in ineffective and illegitimate government, and declining social and economic wellbeing.

Why does this matter?

Weakening political trust erodes civic engagement, reduces support for evidence based public policies, promotes risk aversion in government, and creates the space for the rise of authoritarian-populist forces.

Trust is the glue that facilitates collective action for mutual benefit. Without trust we don’t have the ability to address complex, long-term challenges. Trust is also closely tied to democratic satisfaction.

The restoration of political trust in Australia is critical to the health of our society and to the defence of liberal democracy more broadly.