No young people are not abandoning democracy in droves

This graphic has been going around and generating a lot of angst. A typical story is here at Stuff.

I was interested enough in this to download the raw data into SPSS and look at it. Lots of fascinating results which I might come back to. But two interesting things on this graph which the reports do not highlight.

The stories just report how many saying it is is essential to live in a democracy. But what were the other options? Is it a binary question of essential and not essential?

In fact it was a 10 scale question where people pick a number from 1 (not at all important) and 10 (absolutely important). So those not saying 10 may still be saying 8 or 9 which is still saying very important. What happens if you group those saying 8, 9 or 10 together?

  • 1930s – 94%
  • 1940s – 95%
  • 1950s – 87%
  • 1960s – 79%
  • 1970s – 75%
  • 1980s – 64%

So still a decline but not as dramatic as the graph shows.

The more important figure may be how many are saying 1 to 4 – that democracy is not important?

  • 1930s – 0%
  • 1940s – 2%
  • 1950s – 3%
  • 1960s – 4%
  • 1970s – 5%
  • 1980s – 6%

And the other thing to remember is the age breakdowns have a high margin of error. There were 89 respondents born in the 1980s. That is a 10.4% margin of error (for a result of 50%).

So yes younger people are less likely to say democracy is essential, but I don’t think the represents some massive disillusionment that has infected younger generations. I think it just reflects that few younger people vote until they get older, settle down, have a family etc.

UPDATE: I’ve now gone back and looked through their 1998 data from an older survey (the latest data is from 2011). This shows much the same pattern – that young people then were less positive on democracy. So this is not a trend, just an established pattern I’d say. The question in 1998 was a four point scale that having a democratic political system was very good, fairly good, fairly bad or very bad.  Those saying very good were:

  • 1930s 64%
  • 1940s 56%
  • 1950s 55%
  • 1960s 56%
  • 1970s 34%

Those born 1970s were roughly in their 20s in 1998 so comparable to those born in the 1980s in 2011. Again there is possibly some change from 1998 to 2011 but it looks to be minor at best.

In the 2011 survey 30% of those aged in their 20s said democracy was essential on a 10 point scale, choosing 10/10. In the 1998 survey 34% of those in their 20s said democracy was very good on a four point scale. Not much change.

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