Are People Really Turning Away from Democracy?

12 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2016 Last revised: 15 Dec 2016

See all articles by Erik Voeten

Erik Voeten

Georgetown University - Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS)

Date Written: December 8, 2016


In an important and already influential 2016 article in the Journal of Democracy, Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk argue that citizens in consolidated democracies in Europe and the United States have “become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system” and “more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives” (Foa and Mounk 2016, p.7). Moreover, millennials are especially culpable.

These are important and broad claims that are worthy of a systematic follow-up analysis. My purpose is not to replicate Foa and Mounk’s findings but to examine the veracity of their substantive claims more systematically. I show that there is no evidence for the first claim. Trends in overall support for democracy and its non-democratic alternatives have been flat for the past two decades. This finding is very robust to different ways of defining the countries of interest.

There is some support for the second claim. Millennials are somewhat more favorably inclined towards non-democratic ways of ruling their countries even after we account for age. Nevertheless these effects primarily come from the United States. Moreover, when we look at confidence in actual democratic institutions, then the opposite pattern emerges: older people have lost faith in U.S. Congress and the Executive to a greater extent than younger people.

Suggested Citation

Voeten, Erik, Are People Really Turning Away from Democracy? (December 8, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Erik Voeten (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS) ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

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