Democracy in the world – the view from Britain 
October 7th, 2020, Milan Dinic

Democracy in the world – the view from Britain 

The YouGov Democracy Study has found that four in ten (42%) Britons believe the world is becoming less democratic. A quarter (24%) of the British public think COVID-19 will reduce the number of countries becoming democratic in the future.

While some have suggested that democracy is in retreat, it has also been argued that the world is currently redefining the meaning of the word, which has brought about new terms such as ‘illiberal democracy’ or ‘stabilocracy’.

The global coronavirus pandemic is also seen as a challenge for democratic order and principles. However fragile or robust it may be, democracy is still the prevailing political system globally and it seems that it is currently facing a challenge of perception regarding role and purpose.

The YouGov Democracy study has found that four in ten (42%) people in the UK public think that the world is becoming less democratic. Nearly half of people aged 60 and older (48%) share this view.

One in seven people (15%), however, think that democracy in the world is on the increase. The most optimistic group among them are those aged 16 to 39, where one in five (20%) say democracy is advancing globally.


When the results are viewed through the lens of 2016 EU referendum votes, we see a notable divide between Leavers and Remainers. Half of Remainers (51%) think the world is becoming less democratic, while this view is shared by just four in ten (40%) Leavers.

Brexiteers are more likely to consider that things are remaining the same (29%) than Remainers (22%). However, both one in seven (15%) Brexiteers and one in eight (13%) Remainers think the world is becoming more democratic.

The impact of COVID-19 on democracy

When it comes to the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on democracy globally, one in four Britons (24%) think it will lead to fewer countries being democratic. This view is most widely shared among the 16 to 24-year-old group, where a third (34%) have this concern - notably higher than any other age groups.

Only six per cent think something positive will happen for democracy in the world as a result of coronavirus.

The most widely held opinion among the British public (shared by 46%) is that coronavirus will make no difference on the global presence of democracy whatsoever.

Spreading democracy through military force

In the 1990s and 2000s there were several interventions by Western countries around the world in the name of democracy. The UK participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq is still a polarising issue in the British public.

In this latest study, YouGov explored support in Britain for spreading democracy abroad using military force. Our results show that one in four (25%) Britons support using the military to overthrow non-democratic governments, while under just half (44%) oppose it.

Interestingly, three in ten (31%) 16 to 24 year-olds support spreading democracy using military force, which is notably higher than other age groups. Our results also show that three in ten Conservative (30%) and Lib Dem (29%) voters, and one in five (22%) Labour supporters favour military intervention.

See full results here