Why is political discontent destabilizing the democratic world?

The Capitol.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

We have many ways to describe the turbulent character of the political present: the populist moment, democratic backsliding, the authoritarian turn. But if a new analysis of global trends in public opinion from the Pew Research Center is correct, it might be more accurate to say that ours is primarily a time of rising political discontent.

Pew's core finding is that large numbers of people in a long list of countries are dissatisfied with how their democracies are working — and this restlessness is fueling a drive for more radical change. As Pew puts it, "A median of 56 percent across 17 advanced economies surveyed in 2021 say their political system needs major changes or needs to be completely reformed. Roughly two thirds or more express this opinion in Italy, Spain, the U.S., South Korea, Greece, France, Belgium, and Japan."

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