GDI analysis: Has democracy lost its persuasive power?


People have lost faith in democracy, according to political scientists. We checked this assertion with a network analysis. In this network analysis and at the Tyler Cowen and Parag Khanna at GDI event, we discuss why the appeal of democracy has diminished.

Our analysis

“American citizens are not just dissatisfied with the performance of particular governments; they are increasingly critical of liberal democracy itself.” This is the gloomy picture painted by American political scientists Fao and Mounk in their article “The Signs of Deconsolidation”.

Has democracy lost its persuasiveness? Is it no longer a desirable form of government – or is it so self-evident to Europeans and Americans that they simply ignore it?

These are the questions we wanted to explore. The Condor software developed by Galaxyadvisors reveals if, where, and how democracy is being discussed on the internet. The software, which is used each year to compile the Thought Leader Index, shows, for instance, links from Wikipedia pages, thereby visualising the importance of a certain topic. It can also reveal to us the significance of specific websites returned by Google searches.


The website network: democracy achieves little resonance

From previous experience with the Thought Leader Index, we know that large news outlets such as CNN or The New York Times crop up in a Condor-generated network as soon as the topic being researched achieves public resonance. If large online media are excluded from our website analysis, the topic of democracy is not very important to the public.

The links of the first 50 websites returned by a Google search (in English) for "democracy" were examined. Except for the British magazine "The Economist", we see very narrowly focused topical websites rather than big news producers. Upon closer examination, some of these websites are lacking in professionalism and have very limited reach. Democracy, therefore, is not regarded as an issue in its own right within the English-speaking public sphere.


Google Trends: other countries, other debates

But what’s going on in other regions around the world? Are there continents or countries more concerned with the issue of democracy? Google Trends offers a glimpse into the relevant search queries. The online tool reveals how often people search for a certain term on Google, providing an idea of how important the search term is to the population of a certain region.

The graph below is an impressive illustration of how the concept of democracy is, in fact, a less frequent search term in the USA and Europe than in other countries. Countries in Central and East Africa and Central and South America rank at the very top, as does Indonesia.

What is striking is that most of these countries do not rank particularly high on the Democracy Index or the Corruption Perception Index. People in states without (stable) democracies seem to talk much more about democracy.


Google Ngram Viewer: democracy used to be an issue

Google Ngram Viewer demonstrates that democracy was once an issue in the West, too. The online tool shows how frequently a term occurs in the entire online corpus of Google Books – from 1500 to 2008. We decided to analyse English-language books from the years 1800 to 2008. For comparison, we also analysed the terms "Internet’" and "Bible".

What is highly revealing is that democracy appears never to have enjoyed a particularly great deal of attention when compared to "Internet" or "Bible". But we also see that more is written about democracy when the world is in greater peril: during the turmoil of the Second World War, more books tackled the issue of democracy than at any other time.

The Wikipedia network: various ways of talking about democracy

If democracy is not discussed as an issue in its own right today, we have to ask ourselves whether the concept is perhaps simply a subtextual topic in other discourses. Observing Wikipedia is a good way to get a picture of the constellations of topics that actually deal with democracy.

The encyclopaedia platform explains our world today and has long been a standard reference work. If we know where the term democracy appears on Wikipedia, we can postulate which fields of knowledge are important for democracy.

The Condor software from Galaxyadvisors allows us to visualise the relationships between various Wikipedia pages. As a result, we can see how the "Democracy" page on Wikipedia is linked to the pages of other people and concepts, where topical clusters form, and how important individual pages are for the topic of democracy.

A cluster calculation clearly highlights five topical focuses in the network, all of which deal with democracy differently.