6.3.9 Disillusion with Politicians

There is widespread evidence of people’s dissatisfaction with politicians:

●  There were “large protests in many European countries, including Britain, Portugal and Spain, in response to austerity” during the 2011 Eurozone crisis, as noted by The Economist in its summary of The world this year.

●  A Guardian article on 25 May 2016, Across Europe, distrust of mainstream political parties is on the rise, reported that parties on the far left and on the far right have gained increasing shares of the vote in national elections:

“The far right is gaining support in some corners of Europe, but more marked is the rejection by voters of the political establishment”.

●  The British people’s vote to leave the EU indicated their dislike of recent economic and social changes, as described later in this chapter (  John Gray, in his article Brexit has left the British political class trapped by its own history, argued that politicians still haven’t got the message: “most of the political class has proved incapable of adapting its thinking to the mass disaffection that the referendum revealed”.

●  Voters decisively rejected America’s political establishment in 2016 by voting for Donald Trump, a populist.  His opponent, Hillary Clinton, was too easily seen as representing an out-of-touch and uncaring political elite.  Trump retained much of his support in 2020, although he failed to win the election.

●  Corruption can undermine people’s trust in governments.  For example, as reported by Time Magazine, “For Young Pakistanis, Democracy’s a Drag” because of the corruption that accompanied its introduction; in a 2013 survey, 32% said that they thought that military rule would be better and 38% wanted Sharia law.

●  Some examples of unacceptable authoritarian governments being overthrown were reported in a short Foreign Affairs article, Demystifying the Arab Spring.

The precise reasons are hard to identify, and vary from country to country, but all reflect discontent with the status quo and distrust of mainstream parties.  There have been many political failures recently:

The financial crisis in 2007-8 caused a great deal of hardship in the population, but the financiers who had caused the crash seemed to escape almost unscathed (

Politicians have failed to respond adequately to the rapid economic and social changes associated with new technologies and globalisation, as described later (6.7.8).

More generally, political systems can become dysfunctional if politicians perform poorly (6.3.3).

Dissatisfaction doesn’t always lead to revolution, or even to a change of government in a democratic election, but it does delegitimise politicians and the government in power.  The topic of holding them to account is examined towards the end of this chapter (6.8.5).


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