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In recent years, the strength of democratic institutions and their fitness as the ideal political way of governance has been challenged around the world, with populist leaders ascending to power in old and young democracies alike. The economic and social effects of the COVID 19 pandemic, such as inequality, poverty and unemployment, could well interact with these trends; countries heavily affected by the health crisis are experiencing growths in social and political unrest. 

The Life with Corona project provides evidence on people’s perceptions of democracy during the pandemic. Our survey asked participants from five democratic nations their opinion about different political systems to govern their countries. 

In the study, participants had to rate as very good, fairly good, fairly bad or very bad, three non-democratic and one democratic ways of governing: 

  • the army ruling, 
  • a strong leader who does not have to bother with a parliament and elections, 
  • the tyranny of experts (having experts deciding what they think is best for the country).
  • and a democratic political system 

We found that, in general, people agree that having the army ruling the country is a very bad idea. However, some countries were more certain than others e.g. The U.S. vs Portugal. 

People were more circumspect regarding the rule of a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections. Still, in all countries in the study, a majority think the authoritarian figure would be a very bad idea (Argentina, Portugal, and Germany with lower shares).

Interestingly, people are more tolerant of the idea of experts, not the government, running their country. In contrast with the clear rejection of the army or a strong leader ruling, less than one-quarter of the respondents think that having knowledgeable people deciding what is best for the country would be a very bad way of governing.

In respect of democracy, almost all respondents think it is a good way of governance. In fact, in all countries, the probability of being categorized at least as a fairly good political system is higher for democracy than for any of the other three systems.

However, not everyone strongly believes democracy is a very good system. Just over one-fifth of respondents on average believe democracy to be a fairly good system. Democratic systems are fragile, and the data reveals they are considered non-perfect.

Of the four governing options, respondents in the Life with Corona Project strongly reject the idea of the army or strong personalities ruling the country, and they seem more tolerable of experts governing the country. Still, democracy stands as the most desirable political system.

And what do you think, what is the best way of governing? We want to know your opinion. Take part in the survey here.

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