In a forthcoming article for The Journal of Democracy, political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa describe a disturbing global trend they call “democratic deconsolidation”—meaning a growing lack of faith in democracy. As reported in The New York Times, millennials, in particular, appear to be turning their backs on democracy:
Drawing on data from the European and World Values Surveys, the researchers found that the share of Americans who say that army rule would be a “good” or “very good” thing had risen to 1 in 6 in 2014, compared with 1 in 16 in 1995.
That trend is particularly strong among young people. For instance, in a previously published paper, the researchers calculated that 43 percent of older Americans believed it was illegitimate for the military to take over if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, but only 19 percent of millennials agreed. The same generational divide showed up in Europe, where 53 percent of older people thought a military takeover would be illegitimate, while only 36 percent of millennials agreed.
This is worrying data but it can also be interpreted in less alarming ways. Earlier generations that had a stronger faith in democracy grew up in a period in which there were large-scale systematic alternatives to democracy (in the form of fascism and communism) that America defined itself against. As such alternatives were defeated or retreated from the world stage, the salience of democracy as a defining feature of a polity became less important.
Further, some of the supposed turn against democracy seems to be due to people being upset at gridlock. It’s worth noting the millennials were among the age cohorts least likely to vote for Donald Trump, whose campaign as an “antisystem outsider” embodies democratic disillusionment. While the expression of that disillusionment is undeniably depressing, there’s reason to think that it could be solved by a more responsive politics.