6.3.9 Disillusion with Politicians

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/639.htm)

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

  • There is a low turnout in many democratic elections; the FairVote web-site has reported on Voter Turnout in American elections, for example.
  • There were protests against several European governments, for example during the 2011 Eurozone crisis[1] and in subsequent national elections.[2] Parties on the far left and on the far right gained increasing shares of the vote.  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.
  • The distrust of mainstream parties, in both Europe and America, was very pronounced in 2016 and 2017 (
  • 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 entitled Demystifying the Arab Spring.

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.  People might simply feel rebellious and become uncooperative with anyone they associate with authority.

Clearly there have been political failures recently, notably in dealing with the rapid economic and social changes associated with new technologies and globalisation; this specific issue is addressed later (6.7.8).

More generally, political systems can become dysfunctional if politicians perform poorly (6.3.3) – and the topic of holding them to account is examined towards the end of this chapter (6.8.5).


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[1] The Economist noted that “There were also large protests in many European countries, including Britain, Portugal and Spain, in response to austerity” in its summary of The world this year, which was published on 17 December 2011 and was available in May 2014 at http://www.economist.com/node/21541870.

[2] The Guardian published an article on 25 May 2016, after a presidential election in Austria, entitled Across Europe, distrust of mainstream political parties is on the rise.  Its strapline was “The far right is gaining support in some corners of Europe, but more marked is the rejection by voters of the political establishment”.  The article was available in August 2016 at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/25/across-europe-distrust-of-mainstream-political-parties-is-on-the-rise.