Democracy study by the Bosch Stiftung: “This is exactly where there is a break”


Status: 08.09.2021 2:52 p.m.

“How democratic are you?” Go to this question NDR and tagesschau24 in a project for election – and the Bosch Stiftung has also investigated this question. Scientist Rolf explains who is critical of democracy – and why. What are the main results of the Robert Bosch Stiftung study?

Claudia Rolf: There are three main main findings: Overall, we see a clear and mature commitment to democracy in Germany. Second, we see a difference between the ideal image of a democracy and how it is implemented in practice. There is a crisis of confidence and discourse – we have called it a “relationship crisis”. Citizens feel that their views are not well represented here.

And thirdly, we see that 26 percent of the people in Germany also have a contradicting relationship to democracy. It is precisely that segment of the population that includes people who are neither strong supporters nor strong opponents of democracy. And the potential of this group should be raised to strengthen democracy. What surprised you most about the results?

Rolf: It was surprising that large parts of the population have a very distant relationship with politics. In the countries examined, this was around a quarter to half of the citizens who have an indifferent and / or ambivalent relationship to democracy. And they see themselves very little as shapers of politics.

What does democracy bring me? In the study, what makes democracy good or useful for citizens?

Rolf: The study shows overall support for democracy and only low susceptibility to alternatives. There is fundamental agreement with the elements of the rule of law, diversity of opinion and free and fair elections. For some, democracy itself has an added value, an “intrinsic legitimacy”. It is valued simply because it is a good system.

Others, however, tend to link the evaluation of democracy with concrete results, i.e. the question: What does democracy bring for me as a citizen? The study shows that the relationship of many citizens to democracy is shaped by conflicting experiences and wishes.

To person

Claudia Rolf heads the Democracy team at the Robert Bosch Stiftung. Before that, she was head of the International Democracy Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and has been working on questions of democracy and democratization for many years. She studied social sciences with a focus on international relations at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Debates are often perceived as hateful Can you describe those who are critical of democracy?

Rolf: There are mainly two groups: On the one hand, the so-called “passive indifferents” who have a vague idea of ​​what constitutes democracy and who also show little culture of debate or the urge to participate. And then there are the “disappointed output-oriented people”. They are staunch democrats, but they have a strong sense of injustice. You are disappointed with the results that democracy brings. And they answer that with withdrawal. With everyone agreeing, one result was that two thirds are more worried about democracy …

Rolf: This point is primarily about how discourses are conducted in Germany. People worry about it. Most would like a civil tone in debates, but increasingly perceive a sharp tone. In the study, 70 percent often rate political debates as hateful, and that’s when they worry about the future of democracy.

For example, there is also hate speech online, where many are intimidated and afraid of this hatred. Hate speech online means that some people think carefully about whether and when to express their opinion online. Recognizing and questioning conspiracy narratives and disinformation and countering hate speech online are therefore important elements in strengthening democratic culture.

How democratic are we? – An experiment

tagesschau24 / NDR Kulturjournal, September 7th, 2021 Another result of your study was: There is diffuse sympathy for authoritarian alternatives. 20 percent even said that a dictatorship could be helpful in individual cases.

Rolf: Yes, democracy is rated ambiguously. Despite the generally high approval ratings for democracy, there is no such thing as “complete immunization” against authoritarian temptations as a whole – and some groups are more susceptible to conspiracy narratives.

The study also shows that not all people have the patience to balance different opinions and interests. But here the study also reveals where politics could target in a targeted manner in order to give people more support against authoritarian temptations. Strengthening the joy of discourse and the acceptance of discourse and making it positive is therefore an important starting point for strengthening democracy. A quarter of the respondents wanted a “caring policy” in a democracy – what does that mean in concrete terms?

Rolf: Care here refers to the efficiency of a democracy, it speaks to orientation and efficiency. It shows the desire for politics to respond more to the needs of the citizens and also orientate itself towards the common good.

It was also noticeable, however, that the citizens demand that politics should redeem their responsibility towards the people in a comprehensible way. It must be authentic and make the citizens heard. And this is exactly where a rupture becomes clearly evident, which we named in the study “Relationship Crisis” between citizens and politics. What homework do the results of the study give politicians?

One requirement is to enable and strengthen good debates digitally and analogously. The culture of dialogue must become more constructive. Sufficient space should be given to different perspectives. In a pluralistic society, different voices have to be heard and balanced.

In addition, citizens should be more involved in shaping politics so that they do not fall into passivity. They want to feel that they can make a difference themselves. The study also shows, however, that it is worthwhile to see who can be involved and how. Especially those who are ambivalent about democracy offer great potential. Such approaches would even consolidate democracy.

The interview was conducted by Andreas Hilmer, NDR

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