US' Self-Perception as Bastion of Democracy Doesn't Match Reality – Analyst

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The US has been branded as a ‘flawed democracy’ by a new report released by the Economist Intelligence Unit. According to its authors, the findings reflect a “sharp fall in popular confidence in the functioning of public institutions.” Sputnik spoke to Clodagh Harrington, a professor who specialises in US politics at De Montfort University.

Sputnik: So this report by the Economist Intelligence Unit says that its findings reflect a decline in the US of trust in public institutions that, interestingly, also predates the election of Donald Trump. Why is trust declining do you think and in what ways?

Clodagh Harrington: There are probably a few explanations. First of all, if you look at the decline it's been going down over the past ten years or so. It's been described as a ‘democracy recession' as the number plummet. I would say in part, at least, it's to do with the increase in the culture wars in the United States. So in other words, depending on who's in power, certain groups within society feel that they're not being heard, not being listened to, that the system is rigged against them and the country has been extremely polarised in recent times, not least under the Obama administration and now under Trump.

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I think there's that, and the other thing, that may be a more practical issue, and it's one of the items on the democracy tick box list: political participation. Americans don't participate very actively, in voting at least. That is a negative reflection on the state of their democracy in terms of people not going to polls on polling day and then saying that in the polls they don't feel represented or they don't feel that the people in power are representing their views.

Sputnik: I'd imagine many will point at President Trump and blame him for this, but the research shows that this trend actually predates his election. Is this an issue that both Republicans and Democrats have contributed to do you think?

Clodagh Harrington: Oh yes, I would think so for sure. I think it would be too simple to just point at one side of the aisle or the other and blame them. This is a longer term and bigger story. I think what a lot of people find extremely frustrating is the fact that their government doesn't seem to be functioning well and again goes well past what Donald Trump is doing or not doing. One of the items on the democracy index list is to do with the functioning of government and that is what America scores lowest on in all of its five democracy scorings — it gets just over seven out of ten for government functioning.

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If you think of how they have been in recent years there's been a lot of shutdowns, there's been a lot of fractious partisan grandstanding, and this idea that the left or the right or progressives versus conservatives, are in such battle with each other that they can't see the bigger picture of what is the greater good for the country. I think that is something that definitely undermines democracy and the public know it.

Sputnik: The US has of course long championed itself as the beacon of freedom and democracy around the world, but for some, findings like these will throw that into serious question — what do you think this tells us about the US' place as the so-called ‘leader of the free world'?

Clodagh Harrington: Well I think it's interesting to see that out of one hundred and sixty seven countries — I think — America comes in at twenty or twenty one. It doesn't even make it into the top twenty, which is not a huge surprise when you break down the reasons for why that is, such as low political participation. However I think it's not how the country would like to see itself. There are other countries in their like Ireland, for example, that are higher on the democracy scoring than America. I think that must be a little bit irritating for them because it feels like the reality and their perception of themselves as this bastion of democracy don't always match up.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Clodagh Harrington and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.




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