"No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise," said Winston Churchill in 1947. "Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." It would seem that most people agree.
Overall, 78% of people believe that democracy is important; around the world, that number ranges from 92% in Greece (the "cradle of democracy") to 50% in Iran (a "theocratic republic," according to the Central Intelligence Agency).
However, even 40% of those living in bona fide democracies (those countries classified as "free" by Freedom House) believe that their country is not, in fact, democratic.
The disparity between those who believe in democracy and those who think they live in a democracy is the "perceived democratic deficit," according to the Democracy Perception Index, an annual survey of 124,000 people across 53 countries conducted by Dalia Research, in collaboration with the Alliance of Democracies. The greater the deficit, the more citizens feel that their country fails to honor their democratic ideals.
Interestingly, every one of the 53 countries surveyed in both 2020 and 2019 had some form of deficit, indicating that even in the freest of societies, democracy remains a work in progress or even an unattainable goal.
The countries with the smallest deficits in 2020 include Taiwan, Philippines, Switzerland, Denmark and Saudi Arabia; those with the largest include Venezuela, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and Nigeria.
Charted below are the survey results from 20 countries, and they illustrate some startling beliefs — not least that 73% of Chinese consider China to be democratic, whereas only 49% of Americans believe the same about the US.
Ben Schott is a Bloomberg Opinion visual columnist. He created the Schott's Original Miscellany and Schott's Almanac series, and writes for newspapers and magazines around the world.
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on Bloomberg, and is published by special syndication arrangement .