Study: lack of tolerance, institutional confidence threaten democracies

December 02, 2019

The stability of democracies worldwide could be vulnerable if certain cultural values continue to decline, according to a new study published in Nature Human Behaviour.

The findings by researchers from the United States and New Zealand are based on an analysis of survey data from 476,583 individuals in 109 countries.

"It is often taken for granted that democratic culture will just follow once democratic institutions have been installed," said Damian Ruck, a postdoctoral research fellow in UT's Department of Anthropology. "But when looking at the data we see democratic cultural values, such as openness and tolerance, precede both economic development and democratization."

Ruck, lead author on the study, worked with Alex Bentley, professor of anthropology, Luke Matthews from the policy research think tank RAND, and University of Auckland psychologists Quentin Atkinson and Thanos Kyritsis to examine historical changes in countries with varying political systems over 100 years.

Consistently, openness to diversity was a precursor to democracies.

"This has important policy implications," Ruck said. "It suggests that democratic institutions will not be sustained in nations where openness and tolerance, hallmarks of a liberal democracy, are low. The recent rise of nationalist politics could be cause for concern."

Where confidence in institutions such as the government and the media is low, democracy tends to be unstable. In the study, some Western nations were among those with multidecade declines in institutional confidence, raising concerns of future political instability.

"In the 20th century, we became accustomed to seeing low-confidence autocracies become democracies," Ruck said. "But our analysis shows that this also works the other way around: low-confidence democracies can turn towards autocracy."

Despite the declines in institutional confidence and growing nationalism in the United States and Europe, the study found a global trend toward greater openness and tolerance. It is significant primarily because openness to diversity is a significant predictor of future democracy.

"During the last century, the world has become vastly more connected," Ruck said."More of us are exposed to people with different backgrounds and lifestyles, which breeds openness and tolerance. It is good news for the future of liberal democracy."

Brian Canever (865-974-0937,

Karen Dunlap (865-974-8674,

University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to