Huge dissatisfaction with the economic and political situation in the country motivated Poles to participate in the last elections. As a study by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) shows, this dissatisfaction is not a simple reaction, but the result of a deeper crisis of faith in democracy, in which politicians fail to solve fundamental social problems. The survey report identifies not only the problem itself, but also valuable suggestions for the future on how to solve it.
15 October 2023 saw a record high voter turnout, boosted in particular by more young people and women than usual. There were not many voices predicting this beforehand. But some clues could be found. Much is explained by the report of the survey carried out by the IPA before the elections, released in December 2023, entitled “Public sentiment, activism and attitudes towards democracy according to Polish public opinion”.
It shows not only the dramatically high level of dissatisfaction of Poles with the situation in the country – both political and economic, and with the activities of the government of the day. What is more, the group most dissatisfied with the situation turned out to be young people (up to 29 years of age). Among them, as many as 80% declared themselves dissatisfied. This situation was accompanied by a further decline in trust in the most important institutions of representative democracy – parliament, government and the president. At the bottom of the trust scale were political parties. Young people distrusted all these institutions twice as much as the entire society.
Approaches to democracy
The opinions of two social groups proved to be the most divergent in their attitudes towards democracy. Among those under 29, a clear disapproval of how democracy functions in Poland is evident. The smallest group of people in this age group claims that liberal democracy is the best method of governing the country. This attitude stems from their conviction that the system, as it has functioned so far, has not provided solutions to everyday social problems. At the same time, it is among the same young people that there is the smallest group declaring readiness to give up civil rights and liberties in exchange for security in various areas, including economic security.
At the other end of the scale is the group of the oldest Poles (65+). In this group, there is the greatest support for liberal democracy, as such. But there is similarly high support for the opinion that democracy is good insofar as it provides economic security. Among the same people, there are also the largest groups willing to give up civil rights and liberties for physical and economic security. Clearly older people have different needs and priorities, which is probably due to their daily life experiences. However, these translate into their assessment of democracy and the political offerings they receive from the parties operating in the country.
How to reverse unfavourable trends?
The IPA study also shows what can be done to reverse unfavourable trends in attitudes to democracy and to take advantage of the still evident increased interest among Poles in the functioning of this system:
- In order to increase support for democracy, politicians must demonstrate by their activities that the system can deliver tangible results by implementing solutions to problems that are important to people, above all ensuring economic security;
- Taking such measures will also help build trust in public institutions and politicians themselves. Increasing transparency in public life and making real use of participatory decision-making mechanisms are additional tools for building public trust;
- Civil society organisations play an important role in stimulating civic activity and breaking down social divisions. Therefore, it is important that they have the opportunity to involve different social groups and build bonds between their members;
- There is also a need to work with young people and realistically take their opinions into account when making decisions and to inform them about proposals from public institutions and politicians aimed at solving their needs, through the communication channels that young people use most often (primarily social media).
These are just some of the issues discussed in the report. The entire report is available for download at the link: https://www.isp.org.pl/en/publications/public-sentiment-activism-and-attitudes-towards-democracy-according-to-polish-public-opinion-opinion-poll-results-june-2023.
The survey was carried out as part of the Central Europe Civic Engagement Programme (CECEP), a 5-year initiative to strengthen the engagement of civic organisations in Central Europe. As part of it, IPA supports coalitions of civic organisations in Poland to increase the effectiveness of their advocacy and communication activities. The currently supported coalitions can be explored in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3ZgJLNMCks&t=63s. Similar activities are taking place in Hungary. The whole action is coordinated by the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
Authors of the study: Filip Pazderski, Sonia Horonziak, collaboration Bartłomiej Walczak.
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