Friday, February 01, 2008

Nous allons aux chiens – mais je vais bien, Jacques

The think-tank Demos has put out an interesting-looking pamphlet based on its newly devised ‘Everyday Democracy Index’, comparing European countries:

The EDI is a tool for assessing the democratic health of European countries across many different dimensions. That includes not just formal dimensions of democracy but also more everyday features of democracy – how important democratic principles and practices are to the cultures of workplaces, to people’s community life, to the way they interact with public services, and even to the way they talk to their friends and family.

The results…show that countries which have done the best job of empowering individuals in these everyday domains are much more likely to maintain a vibrant democracy in traditional political settings.

I might blog about it next week, after I’ve had a chance to read it, but one finding caught my eye.

People across the EU were asked whether they expected their personal situation to improve or get worse in the course of the next five years. In the UK, the figure of those expecting improvement minus those expecting worsening was +43%. People were also asked whether they thought things were going in the right or wrong direction in their country; the UK net figure was –7%. This gives the UK an ‘optimism gap’ of 50% – Brits are, on average, much more positive about their own prospects than those of the country as a whole.

Is this a more general phenomenon? Yes: most EU populations have the same bias, although mostly not as much as we do. Here’s the (cliché alert) league table – a higher number indicates personal optimism and collective pessimism, and a negative number indicates the opposite:

Lithuania –7
Czech Republic –1
Ireland 0
Slovenia +1
Germany +5
Luxembourg +10
Greece +12
Denmark +13
Cyprus +15
Austria +23
Latvia +23
Netherlands +26
Belgium +27
Malta +29
Poland +29
Spain +29
Finland +34
Slovakia +36
Sweden +40
Italy +44
Estonia +47
Hungary +48
Portugal +49
UK +50
France +75

Make of that what you will. Only five or six countries show a decent connection between personal and national expectations, and hardly any are more positive collectively than individually. The gaps may be to do with misperceptions of how other people are doing, perhaps owing to media negativity; the strength of personal overconfidence may vary between countries; there may be differences in the extent to which people see the national condition as the sum of everyone’s personal conditions. There are probably a lot of factors at work.

I’m not surprised that people in the UK so strongly think ‘the country’s going to the dogs’ but ‘I’m all right, Jack’. I am surprised, though, that the French beat us by a mile. I don’t know why this should be.

The survey was conducted during May to July 2006, and towards the end of that period France lost the World Cup final after Zinedine Zidane was sent off for headbutting an Italian player. Despite the national defeat, he was cheered for defending his honour and that of his family. But that can’t be it, can it?

2 comments:

Andre said...

:( Mid table for us

At least we're not at the bottom - which is what I expected after 20 years of right wing government.

a very public sociologist said...

20 years ... it's more like 30 now! ;)

Thanks for bringing this to our attention though. I'll have to take a look at it at some point.