In the United States and Western Europe, many people support large-scale systemic change. In four countries surveyed in November and December last year, about four in ten or more in each country describe their economic or political system as requiring at least major changes, if not comprehensive reform. But what people prioritize – and if they prioritize the two economic and political changes – varies by country, according to new analysis of data from the Pew Research Center.
Here are five key findings on citizen attitudes towards systemic reforms in the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
This report is based on an analysis of two questions that asked people to what extent their country’s political and economic systems need to be reformed. The results of the question on political reform have already been reported in a March 2021 report, and the results of the question on economic reform can be found here.
For this analysis, we used nationally representative telephone survey data of 4,069 adults from November 10 to December 23, 2020, in the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The questions used for this report, along with the answers, can be found here and here, and the survey methodology can be found here.
It is only in the United States that more people say that the political system needs changes than their economic system. About one in five Americans (18%) think their political system needs complete reform, and 47% say it needs major changes, compared to 10% and 40%, respectively, who say the same about the system. economic. Germany, on the other hand, is the only country among the four where more people say their economic system needs at least major changes than saying that about the political system. In France and the United Kingdom, similar divisions see the need to reform political and economic systems.
A majority in France want major reforms to both its economic and political system, as do about four in ten in the United States and the United Kingdom. In France, 57% of people say that their political and economic system needs at least major changes, compared to 18% who think that neither needs to be reformed. About two in ten or less in all four countries report either alone the political system or alone the economic system needs to be reformed. In the US and UK, a smaller proportion – 42% and 37%, respectively – say major changes are needed in both areas. In Germany, the largest share (39%) of the public say that no reform is necessary.
Although between 30% and 57% of the people in the four countries want at least major changes in both their political and economic systems, few (5% or less) in any country want a “complete reform” of both.
In the UK and US, those on the ideological left are much more likely to call for major changes in the political and economic system. In the UK, 55% of people on the left say major changes are needed for both the political and economic system, compared to 28% for those on the right. Likewise, in the United States – where respondents placed themselves on a scale between liberal and conservative, rather than left and right – 68% of liberals favor changing both systems, compared to 26% of conservatives.
In Germany, the left and the right are about equally likely to say that major changes are needed for both the political and economic systems, but the ideological left is much more likely to say that reforms are needed for only the economic system (30% against 17% of the right).
There are also significant partisan differences in the United States and the United Kingdom and smaller differences in France and Germany. For example, 57% of Democrats and those who lean for the Democratic Party believe that the American economic and political system needs major changes or complete reform, compared to 22% of Republicans and Republicans. In the UK, 50% of Labor Party supporters support political and economic reform, compared to 19% of Conservative Party supporters.
Those with favorable views on populist parties are, in general, no more likely to seek major changes in the political and economic system than those with unfavorable views on such groups. In France, for example, 59% of those who have a favorable opinion of the Right-wing Populist National Rally believe that major economic and political reforms are needed – and about as many (57%) who have unfavorable the views of this party are consistent. Views on needed reforms are also similar between partisan and non-partisan when it comes to left-wing populist La France Insoumise and right-wing populist AfD in Germany. And, in the UK, those with a favorable opinion of the Brexit Party (Reform UK) are actually more likely (57%) than those with an unfavorable opinion of the party (28%) to say no major reforms are needed at the level of the political or economic system.
Political and economic dissatisfaction colors people’s desires for major systemic change, as does the belief that their government has not done a good job of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Those who are suspicious of their government or who are dissatisfied with democracy are more likely to call for political and economic changes. In Germany, for example, those who are dissatisfied with democracy are about three times more likely to say that economic and political changes are needed than those who are satisfied (66% vs. 21%). In the four countries studied, those who say that the statement “elected officials care what ordinary people think” do not not describe their country well are more likely to call for political and economic reforms.
Those who don’t think they have a good chance of improving their own standard of living and who think the economy is doing poorly are also more likely to support systemic political and economic change.
People who think their country has done a bad job in the face of the coronavirus pandemic are also more likely to say that political and economic changes are needed than those who think their country has handled things well. In France, for example, 72% of those who think their country has done a bad job think political and economic changes are needed, compared to 44% of those who approve of France’s COVID-19 response.
Laura Silver is a senior researcher specializing in global research at the Pew Research Center.