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Study finds 'increasing tolerance' for a more authoritarian style of political leadership

Support for democracy and democratic principles has remained steadfast around the world over a period of decades…but there are signs some people are becoming more comfortable with strong leaders who can, under some circumstances, bypass some rules of democratic government.

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Support for democratic principles has remained strong over a period of decades. Picture: STOCK IMAGE

A new academic study has proposed an original method to estimate what humanity as whole think about big political issues like democratic governance. It has found that, while virtually all humans think democracy is a good system of government, there is increasing tolerance for a more authoritarian style of political leadership.

It also found that support for ‘strong’ leadership and the belief that men make better political leaders than women are more pronounced in some regions, though the bias towards men has been in decline over the last 25 years and has even disappeared in some.

Our analysis shows that, over the past quarter century, humanity consistently has had a strong preference for democratic government. There is little disagreement over its rightfulness, regardless of world region. – Dr Damien Bol

The study was co-authored by Dr Damien Bol, from King’s College London, Prof Christopher J Anderson, from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Aurelia Ananda, a former PhD student at King’s College London now postdoctoral fellow at Royal Holloway University London, and published in Public Opinion Quarterly.

Dr Bol said: “Our analysis shows that, over the past quarter century, humanity consistently has had a strong preference for democratic government. There is little disagreement over its rightfulness, regardless of world region.

“However, while the baseline of support for undemocratic leadership is low, too, the average human has become more comfortable with leaders not subject to the usual democratic constraints and continues to express a preference for male over female leaders.

“Strikingly, the evolution of these two attitudes varies by region of the world. Although they have been quite stable in the West over the last decade, they have increased substantially in Asia and Africa since the mid-2000s.”

Within the new humanity dataset that the researchers have created, they find that attitudes about democracy, strong leaders, or the gender of political leaders vary less across people’s demographic characteristics than the region of the world where they live.

Dr Bol added: “A positive piece of news from our study is the confirmation of existing research that support for democracy is almost universal. Moreover, despite a lively scholarly and public debate about a global democratic recession, the preference for democracy as a system of government is holding steady globally and has for well over two decades.”

You can read the study, Humanity’s Attitudes About Democracy and Political Leaders: Patterns and Trends, in full here.

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Damien  Bol

Damien Bol

Reader in Political Behaviour