Democracy in theory

Our view: U.S. support should follow local needs

May 28, 2008

President Bush's vision of a new Middle East was a badly executed push to encourage democracy around the world. It never fully appreciated the need for democracy movements to be home-grown and vastly underestimated the suspicion generated by U.S. interest in promoting such movements. And yet Mr. Bush wasn't wrong about the genuine desire of people to live in a country governed by democratic principles. Democracy has a robust following, especially among non-Western democracies, according to a recent poll of 19 nations by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a multi-nation research project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.

But democracy is a malleable idea that should be tailored to the history and culture of a nation. That's where the United States needs to focus its interest and attention. When citizens were asked by World Public Opinion pollsters whether government authority should be based on the will of the people, here is how they responded (figures are percentages):

Country .......... Strongly agree .......... Somewhat agree ....... Total

Egypt ................ 40 ................................. 58 .................... 98

Ukraine ............. 77 ................................. 17 ..................... 94

Poland .............. 57 ................................ 36 ..................... 93

Argentina ........ 32 ................................. 58 .................... 90

Great Britain ..... 55 ..................................... 32 ................... 87

U.S. .................. 44 .................................. 43 ..................... 87

Mexico ............ 59 .................................. 27 .................... 86

France ............ 34 .................................. 43 ...................... 77

Russia ............. 39 ................................. 37 ..................... 76

Source: World Public Opinion poll conducted Jan. 10 and March 20

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