Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

What Can Improve Democracy?

1. Politicians, changing leadership and political parties

In the vast majority of the 24 countries surveyed, politicians are the most common subject of proposals to improve democracy. Some call for different types of people to enter the political arena, while others simply want their current politicians to perform better. Many want their leaders to pay closer attention to and respond more appropriately to constituents’ needs.

“The members of the legislature are stupid, so I want them to improve.”

Woman, 20, Japan

While not top of mind in most places, people sometimes argue for a total change in leadership. This includes removing incumbent heads of state and instating a preferred politician. In Poland, where the survey took place before the October election which removed the then-ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), this was the top change people thought would improve democracy.

Respondents also look beyond the people in politics to focus on political parties. This issue is particularly salient in the Netherlands, where parties are the second-most mentioned topic, though they rank in the top five in South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the U.S. Many requests center on changing the number of political parties – some want more and some want fewer. Others want to see a change in how parties interact, with calls for less fighting and more cooperation. A number of these responses specifically address the behavior or strength of the opposition party.


A table showing that Politicians are the top area for improvement in most countries surveyed

In nearly all countries surveyed, politicians rank first among the 17 topics coded. In countries where politicians are not the top issue, they still rank in the top five.

Suggestions for improving democracy by way of politicians come in many forms.

Some would like to see different people in politics, or more representation. Others focus on the qualities of politicians, such as honesty or empathy, but also their skillset and general competence. Still others ask that politicians change their behavior, both when working with each other and when working with constituents, emphasizing responsiveness.

Representation: Changing who is in politics

“If politicians were ordinary people who were on public transport, who used the means and the laws that they later apply.”

Woman, 41, Spain

One group of suggestions involves changing the types of people involved in politics. For some, politicians are too dissimilar from their constituents, and “ordinary citizens should be able to enter” the government instead. As one Australian woman explained: “If ordinary people were elected to Parliament instead of big, official people, our country would probably be a better place to live. Ordinary people know how hard it is to get jobs, live below the poverty line and raise families on the low sums that the Australian government allows Centrelink to pay out each fortnight.” Another man in Nigeria put it more plainly: “They should give somebody like me a chance of ruling in Nigeria.”

“Wealthy people in government are not helpful in democracy because they don’t understand what it’s like to work in unionized jobs and not be able to afford necessities.”

Woman, 41, UK

Some people focus specifically on the wealth of political leaders, calling for “fewer rich wealthy people” in the government. In Nigeria, one woman said, “They should allow the poor people to rule.” A man in Argentina said there should be “more poor people who can reach important positions.” And one Canadian man suggested “having more people from the upper-middle class, or people who have to work and earn their income, know what it’s like to pay taxes, and understand how difficult it is to survive in our world.”

Others say that “youth should take part in politics.” Younger politicians are viewed as a conduit for change and new ideas while “old ones don’t care anymore.” As one woman in South Africa pointed out, the “youth are the ones who are in line with the community issues.” Many respondents think younger people should be more involved in politics for their own sake: “Young people must create their own future.” A 30-year-old Argentine man said, “Let the young people get involved in politics, as they are the future and will change the country.” And respondents sometimes emphasize that younger people need to be prepared before entering politics, as one man in India said: “Youth should take part in politics, and training the leaders is the solution.”

“We want young blood or women to take over as our government.”

Man, 34, South Africa

More women entering politics is another suggestion for improving the functioning of democracy. One woman in Sweden said, “More women in power, and then I think we will have a good political system.” A Japanese man echoed this call, saying one way to improve democracy is “to increase women’s participation in politics by making more than half of the members of Parliament women.” And a man in Spain said, “Simply, in this country, if instead of men there were more women in power, the country would do so much better.”

Still others call for people of different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds to be in politics. One man in South Africa asked for “a better balance of races in Parliament,” and a woman in Brazil proposed “racial quotas for politicians.” In the Netherlands, one woman suggested more representation of different “cultures, diaspora groups, origins and backgrounds. Because if you look at photos of the cabinet, you see a whole group of White people, which is not objective when you talk about the different cultures and backgrounds in the Netherlands.”

Specific backgrounds come up in some responses. In Australia, one man highlighted how “Indigenous people need to have more say in government,” and a woman in the U.S. shared a similar sentiment, saying, “As a matter of fact, this is Native land, and us Natives should be in charge, not other races.” An Israeli man proposed “more Arab Knesset members so they have more influence on decisions.” Kenya sees similar calls for “leaders from all tribes” to be elected, and a man in India requested that members of Parliament “be from all the castes.”

Competence: Changing politicians’ qualities

“Political leaders should be improved.”

Man, 61, South Korea

Many suggest improving the overall quality of politicians. “If the leader is good, there will be improvement,” explained one man in India. These calls are often straightforward, as in the case of a Mexican woman whose singular request was for “better politicians.” Some suggest basic requirements for holding political office, like one man in Japan who said, “We need politicians who have common sense and can think logically.” This sentiment is shared in Kenya, where one respondent suggested that democracy would be improved if “competent leaders” were elected.

Politicians need extroversion, knowledge and experience from foreign countries, integrity and a democratic spirit.”

Man, 49, Greece

In some cases, respondents set even higher bars for their politicians, specifically asking that they be “knowledgeable people” or “experts on key policy issues.” One Hungarian woman explained that “experts would pass responsible laws.” For one woman in Spain, the coronavirus pandemic illustrated the importance of having experts on an issue decide “everything that has to do with that issue. For example, during COVID, the people who decided were a doctor and an expert.” Others are more reluctant to have experts govern outright and would just like politicians to listen more to experts or have more advisers.

People also want to see changes in the personal character of politicians:

“It will improve when we get a strong and determined leader who puts the issues and problems of people first.”

– Man, 36, South Africa

“More decisiveness from the politicians. I think it’s weak now; they don’t dare to make decisions and they are like civil servants.”

– Woman, 66, Netherlands

“All political people are very bad. All political persons should be honest.”

– Man, 32, India

“To have trustworthy and honest authorities who can give an account of what they do and where they do their jobs.”

– Man, 67, Mexico

“I think they need to behave less like children, learn what people want and be less self-interested. And learn how to tell the truth. And not avoid answering questions.”

– Woman, 76, UK

“For politicians to stop going for a win for their party and egos, and instead to focus more on what’s best – for the short and long term – for the country.”

– Man, 65, U.S.

Responsiveness: Changing politicians’ behavior

Politicians’ conduct is another subject of people’s suggestions. They want politicians to take their responsibilities more seriously and show “more interest in the work they are asked to do.” In Australia, one woman wanted “fewer ‘charismatic’ leaders and more serious and committed candidates.” Another Australian thought politicians need to have a greater sense of responsibility because “saying ‘I don’t know’ or ‘it isn’t my responsibility’ loses the respect of the electorate.” One man in the U.S. plainly stated that democracy needs “serious elected officials, not crazy ones like you have now in the GOP.”

Others are concerned about making sure politicians “say what they mean and do what they say,” especially when it comes to keeping promises made during campaigns. One man in France said politicians must “avoid saying things that will never be done, lying just to get elected.” In Sweden, a respondent asked for “less fishing for votes with false promises.” In several cases, people specifically called for repercussions “if election promises are not carried out.” One man in Australia suggested that politicians “should be forced to stand down” if they do not “honor their promises.” The sentiment is shared in Japan, where one man said that “those who have not worked to carry out their campaign promises” should be prevented “from running for the next term.”

“The government should listen to the voice of the people, because the voice in the inside is not the voice of the lower level. People’s complaints in the lower level are seldom taken.”

Woman, 39, Indonesia

One oft-repeated request is for politicians to listen more closely to their constituents. Many feel that democracy “is not working because politicians have their own agenda and are not listening to anybody.” In the Netherlands, one man explained that “the ordinary man in the street is not really listened to” and “not much” comes of what they ask for. People instead call for politicians to “pay attention to what facilities the people are not getting” and understand that they are meant to be “pro-people.” One Kenyan man said democracy would improve “if elected leaders represented people as the people want and represent the problems they are facing.”

People also highlight specific groups in the country that politicians should pay special attention to. In Japan, several said politicians need to “hear more women’s opinions” and be more attentive to the needs of young people. In other instances, people want politicians to hear “more opinions from poor people.” One Israeli respondent emphasized “taking the opinions of Arabs into consideration,” and a woman in Brazil stressed the need for politicians to better understand “the homeless people.” Other groups that are highlighted include the elderly, LGBTQ people, religious groups and refugees. (For more on what people said about individual rights and equality, read Chapter 4.)

Still, some think that politicians need to “place less emphasis on the wants of minority groups.” In Australia, some painted these groups as “noisy” or “loud” and said politicians should listen to the “silent majority” instead. Other respondents in both Australia and the U.S. even name specific groups they think are receiving undue attention, such as “Aboriginal people,” women and “illegal immigrants.”

Changing leadership

A table showing that Changing leadership is a high priority in Poland, Hungary and South Africa

Instead of improving the quality of their politicians, some want to remove the current governing parties or heads of state. This issue appeared in the top five topics cited in Poland, Hungary and South Africa. In most other countries surveyed, though, it does not rank in the top 10.

In about half the countries surveyed, those who do not support the governing party or parties are more likely to mention changing their political leadership than those who do support these parties. (For more information on how we classify governing party supporters, refer to Appendix D.)

In Hungary, for example, where changing leadership is the third-most mentioned suggestion for improving democracy, 12% of those who do not support Viktor Orbán’s governing coalition of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KNDP) mention changing leadership, compared with 1% of those who do support these parties.

Calls to put someone else in power, particularly in Poland

Across the 24 countries surveyed, Poles particularly stand out for the emphasis they placed on changing leadership – Poland is the only country where the issue ranked first. The survey was conducted in spring 2023, prior to the October 2023 parliamentary elections that ousted the governing right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS).

“As long as PiS is in power, there will be no democracy in Poland.”

Man, 24, Poland

Polish responses about how to improve their democracy centered squarely on changing the governing party: “Removing PiS from power,” said one Polish man. “PiS should lose the election,” echoed a Polish woman.

Poles who do not support PiS are more likely to mention changing leadership than those who do support PiS (17% vs. 4%, respectively, though PiS supporters were overall less likely to provide a response). Younger Polish adults are also more likely to mention changing leadership than those ages 40 and older. Indeed, in the October election, turnout among the youth was unusually high.

While Poles focused on removing the particular party in power, people in other countries sometimes emphasize the need to put different people or parties into office. “The government should be changed. The Congress Party government should come to power,” said one man in India. “Raila Odinga should be granted leadership,” said a woman in Kenya, naming the leader of the opposition. And a South African man suggested that “the African National Congress give other parties a chance to govern the country, and Cyril Ramaphosa step down as a president.”

“A change of government at the next election would improve democracy. The Conservatives have been in power for too long.”

Woman, 53, UK

In other countries, too, calls to change leadership prioritize removing someone currently in power as opposed to installing someone else. Some respondents name the current head of state as who they would like to see out of office. One Brazilian man said, for example, “Get President Lula and his gang out of power.” Or, as one woman in Canada put it: “If we could get Justin Trudeau out of leadership, then I would be happier with democracy.”

Rebuilding leadership from the ground up

“The legislature has a lot of problems – it needs to be improved, starting with a new election of lawmakers.”

Man, 65, South Korea

Some requests to change leadership are not specific to a person or party, but rather focus on bringing in a fresh slate of politicians. “Fire everyone and start fresh,” said one woman in the U.S. An Argentine woman echoed this view: “Take out the current politicians, reform and formulate new laws, and start from scratch.”

Several of these calls to rebuild target the legislature. A man in Greece said, “all 300 members should leave the Parliament. The structure of the Parliament should change radically.” A woman in Spain suggested, “I would carry out a purge in the useless Senate.”

“The established order must be replaced: a new generation with more women and people from the business world. There are too many people who have only been in politics. That is an unhealthy situation.”

Woman, 53, Netherlands

A few focus less on a specific leader, party or institution and more generally on the need for change. One Italian man said, “In order to improve democracy in this country, it would take a coup d’etat. We need to reset all privileges and start over in full respect of people.”

Political parties

A table showing that Improving political parties is a high priority for fixing democracy in the Netherlands

People sometimes target political parties when making suggestions for improving democracy. The issue is particularly salient in the Netherlands, where parties are the second-most mentioned topic. Parties are a top-five issue in Spain, Sweden, South Korea and the U.S. In most other countries surveyed, parties rank in the top 10.

Some proposed changes relate to the number of political parties. Other suggestions are related to how parties act, both on their own and with other parties.

“Get rid of all the political parties, we need a redo.”

Woman, 39, Canada

More political parties

Some want to see more political parties, as with a respondent in Kenya who wanted “the use of a multiparty system” and one in Greece who thought “more political parties in the Parliament” would improve democracy.

Some express a simple desire for more options to choose from. For example, a man in Canada found “very little difference between the NDP (New Democratic Party) and Liberal” now that the Liberal Party, which “used to be centralist,” has “moved to the left.” In South Korea, also dominated by two parties, a man said having “at least three parties to contest the elections” would help improve the country’s democracy. Similarly, one woman in the U.S. wanted “more parties, more points of view.”

“That no large coalitions exist and we therefore have more than three parties.”

Woman, 57, Germany

In other cases, people see the existing parties as too polarized and want additional parties to represent centrists. A man in the U.S. said, “There truly needs to be a relevant third party that would represent the middle-of-the-road ideology between Republicans and Democrats.” This sentiment is echoed in Australia, where one woman thought democracy “works well, but it’s the party room that buggers it up.” This would be fixed if the “extreme wings” of parties became “parties of their own as most people vote for a moderate view,” she said.

Some see the creation of more parties as an opportunity to introduce new ideas. A British man said democracy would improve “if some new parties came to the United Kingdom with some fresh blood and fresh ideas, instead of the same people. The old parties are not so interested in the people living in the UK. They only care about their own pockets and their own ideas.” Suggestions for new parties sometimes focus on the inclusion of young people as a way to bring about different ideas. One Greek woman emphasized that “political parties should be created by young people with new ideas.”

Fewer political parties

Some suggest reducing the number of political parties would create more simplicity. In Nigeria, one man said that “with too many parties, things will go wrong.” A Canadian man held a similar view, saying, “the number of parties should be limited to three: left, center and right. I believe it would lead to less chaos.”

In Mexico, some highlight the monetary cost of having a large number of parties: “There should be fewer parties so that the payroll is less expensive,” said one Mexican woman. Another man thought there should only be two political parties because the current number of parties results in “a lot of money spent.”

“Fewer parties. No party has a clear policy. It’s just a moderate Swedish soup. And if someone tries to stand out, they never succeed.”

Woman, 52, Sweden

People in the Netherlands, where political parties are the second-most mentioned issue, also note how “democracy is being muddled by smaller parties.” One woman explained: “I think it is too fragmented, therefore more difficult to form coalitions, and therefore more difficult to govern.” Another woman called for “fewer political parties. Otherwise you will become entirely ungovernable because many compromises have to be made. Too many parties leads to uncertainty among voters.”

There is no clear consensus on the ideal number of political parties to have in a country. For example, in the Netherlands, one man suggested that there “be seven to eight parties at most” while another suggested “a three-party system.” Still others want no parties at all, as in the case of a man in Japan: “Dissolution of all political parties. We will create a system in which even members of Parliament are not bound by political parties and are involved in politics based on their individual ideas.”

“By creating a two-party system like America’s. Then they can better keep the promises made.”

Man, 40, Netherlands

Although some Americans would like to see more parties or a multiparty system, people in other countries sometimes point to the two-party system in the U.S. as ideal. An Italian man said, “We should have a democratic system like the American one: a presidential system, two parties that you can identify with. In Italy, there are too many parties. In America everything is perfect, but in Italy it is not possible.” A Japanese man suggested that “it would be better to have two major political parties like America. Now, there are various small political parties, and they are not united.”

Less conflict between parties

“Stop the constant opposition policies, like when a party is in favor of one thing, the rival party has to be against it.”

Man, 19, Spain

Many think democracy would improve if political parties stopped fighting with each other. A French man explained that parties “spend their time fighting among themselves. It is not favorable for the French. They discuss and don’t make any real progress on the subjects.” In neighboring Italy, one man similarly took issue with “party squabbling,” and in Spain, a respondent wanted a “decrease in aggressiveness and hostility between parties.” This sentiment is echoed across other countries, including South Africa, where a man asked that “parties stop degrading each other.”

“If the Republicans and Democrats would just work together this would be the greatest country in the world.”

Man, 58, U.S

People give various reasons for their concern about interparty conflict. Some point out how friction between parties creates gridlock: With “two parties fighting and voting along party lines, we never get anything done,” said a man in the U.S. A Canadian man shared a similar idea, saying, “If parties stop bickering, we might advance further.” Others are concerned because “democracy requires mutual efforts while competing,” according to a South Korean man, and because “parties that don’t want to cooperate with others are not democratic,” according to a Dutch man. A Dutch woman succinctly said, “If political parties do not want to work together, a democracy is useless.”

More cooperation between parties

“Get together more, talk more, diversity of opinions. That the parties leave personal benefits aside and agree, more like the Argentine team.”

Man, 31, Argentina

Parties are also called upon to work together. As a woman in the U.S. said: “I would like to see both parties work together and not see each other as wrong. Compromise is the name of the game!” This is echoed in South Korea, where one man said that “compromise is necessary.” One South African respondent noted that working together would allow all parties to focus on “reaching one goal and keeping our country peaceful with stability.”

For others, improved communication between parties is the key for greater harmony. An Argentine woman explained that democracy would work better if “the different parties have a dialogue.” And an Israeli respondent similarly asked for “more dialogue and goodwill to bridge the gaps between the various parties.”

Changes to the opposition party

Some specifically request that opposition parties offer less resistance. A respondent in Kenya, for example, asked the opposition to “calm down a little.” In Hungary, some go even further to suggest that the opposition be “done away with” or “stay silent.” A man in South Africa explained that democracy may be better off without any opposition parties because “no one will ever oppose the decisions, which creates stability in the country.”

“Less hyperbole from the Liberal-National Coalition. We need a viable opposition instead of the half-witted reactionaries that the Coalition keeps serving up.”

Man, 50, Australia

Other suggestions for opposition parties are more targeted. In Australia, people want opposition parties “to stop opposing things just to score political points” or to stop “voting against a good bill just because they are in opposition.” A Spanish man also spoke out against disagreement for the sake of it: “Don’t assume that the opposition must always say the opposite of what the ruling party says.”

Still, in some countries, the emphasis is reversed, and people want a stronger opposition that “will keep the government in check.” As one man in the UK explained: “I think we need an opposition that genuinely disagrees with the government. There has got to be debate. We have a Parliament and it’s not being used properly.”

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