6.3.9 Disillusion with Politicians

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 “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”.

  • 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.  This was very pronounced in 2016 and 2017, in both Europe and America (

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).  The topic of holding them to account is examined towards the end of this chapter (6.8.5).


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