Young people across Europe desire free and fair elections

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Young Europeans want free and fair elections no less than middle-aged or older citizens.

The following calculations of country-cohort averages show that young people -- in contrast to other reports -- value democracy as much as the rest of the population.


Data note: The table is based on individual-level data from the 2016 wave of the Life in Transition Survey, commissioned by the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The view that millennials are turning away from democracy is based on responses to the World Values Survey. Evidence from LiTS (above) and the Eurobarometer (below), does not match the argument from WWS data.

Data from the Eurobarometer show that young people are often more satisfied with democracy than older citizens AND the young-vs-old differences (i.e. differences within countries) are much smaller than differences between countries:


The chart highlights four interesting cases (it wouldn't be readable with 27 lines); the EU-wide averages for the same four age groups are displayed in the table below:


So, as of November 2017, most Europeans are satisfied with democracy in their country. Whether a respondent is young or old does not say much about their view of democracy.

Generational comparisons are not particularly informative, but if we wanted to know whether young Europeans "are different" then the last chart provides a clear answer:


Should we conclude that two data sources "contradict" the WWS patterns? You decide, but a couple of links are in order. Erik Voeten analyzed the same data and concluded that "vast majorities of younger people in the West still attach great importance to living in a democracy". Jeff Guo points out - like Cas Mudde - the original analysis could have been more transparent by reporting the full scale:

People were told to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how important it was to live in a democracy. Foa and Mounk’s chart only shows the percentage of people who answered a full 10 out of 10 — which is more than a tad misleading. What about all the people who answered 8 or 9? ... It turns out that American millennials are indeed less enthusiastic than their parents or grandparents about living in a democracy. But they are by no means skeptics of democracy. They’re just a bit less gung-ho about it. On a scale of 1-10, a majority of them still think that living in a democracy merits an 8, 9 or 10.

And some readers of the WWS results note that even if the interpretation of the generational gap is justifiable, survey responses may be capturing unhappiness about gridlock or the fact that young people do not even conceive of an alternative to a democratic system of politics:

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. (Jeet Heer)

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