Richard O’Neill is a UCD Master of Public Policy student. Here he questions recent claims about the rise of anti-democratic sentiment among millennials, but warns that there is no room for complacency in the defence of democratic values.
Millennials get a bad rap. In the last year we’ve been blamed for ruining the American wine industry, the Canadian tourism industry, golf, and even the E.U. Our voracious appetite for destruction has now turned to democracy. That is according to Roberto Stefan Foa, lecturer in politics at the University of Melbourne and a principal investigator of the World Values Survey, and Yashca Mounk, a lecturer in political theory at Harvard. Their paper, ‘the Signs of Deconsolidation’, in the January 2017 volume of the Journal of Democracy demonstrates a disturbing trend of young people losing their faith in democracy. Their graph below starkly illustrates the point. The proportion of Americans believing it is “essential” to live in a democracy has reduced from 72% amongst those born pre-Second World War to 30% amongst millennials. A similar pattern is evidenced in other established democracies including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Australia. Their conclusions are all the more worrying as they coincide with the rise of populism and anti-system parties, with the election of Donald Trump, Brexit, the rise of populist parties in Poland, Hungary, Finland and more as well as the popularity of the Front National, Alternative für Deutschland, and the Freedom Party of Austria. But is all as it seems – are millennials such a serious threat to democracy in the West, as the figure below seems to suggest (Foa, Stefan & Mounk, Yascha (2016) The democratic disconnect. Journal of Democracy, 27, 3, 5-17):