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Democracy in crisis? The declining support for national democracy in European countries, 2007–2011



The Great Recession that started in 2007/2008 has been the worst economic downturn since the crisis of the 1930s in Europe. It led to a major sovereign debt crisis, which is arguably the biggest challenge for the European Union (EU) and its common currency. Not since the 1950s have advanced democracies experienced such a dramatic external imposition of austerity and structural reform policies through inter- or supranational organisations such as the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or as implicitly requested by international financial markets. Did this massive interference with the room for maneuver of parliaments and governments in many countries erode support for national democracy in the crisis since 2007? Did citizens realise that their national democratic institutions were no longer able to effectively decide on major economic and social policies, on economic and welfare state institutions? And did they react by concluding that this constrained democracy no longer merited further support? These are the questions guiding this article, which compares 26 EU countries in 2007–2011 and re-analyses 78 national surveys. Aggregate data from these surveys is analysed in a time-series cross-section design to examine changes in democratic support at the country level. The hypotheses also are tested at the individual level by estimating a series of cross-classified multilevel logistic regression models. Support for national democracy – operationalised as satisfaction with the way democracy works and as trust in parliament – declined dramatically during the crisis. This was caused both by international organisations and markets interfering with national democratic procedures and by the deteriorating situation of the national economy as perceived by individual citizens.