Austria has experienced three major crisis events in the past twelve years: the financial crisis in 2009, the refugee crisis in 2015 and the Corona crisis in 2020/21. The pollsters Peter Ulram and Peter Hajek have examined in a study what effects they have had and are having on the Austrian population’s awareness of democracy. The result: crises do not inevitably lead to more doubts about democracy – but leave satisfaction with democracy fluctuating.
Satisfaction with democracy is strongly influenced by current events. In 2009, the proportion of those who were less or not at all satisfied was greater than the proportion of those who were very or somewhat satisfied. This distribution continued until the end of the 2016 federal presidential election. After that, satisfaction with democracy rose again. The peak of satisfaction with democracy was reached in March 2020, precisely at the time of the greatest restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms. “The state has shown itself to be strong, solid in the crisis and the political actors have taken the lead,” says Hajek. With the third lockdown, however, satisfaction with democracy fell again.
Dissatisfaction increases in the long term
In general, dissatisfaction with the functioning of democracy has been increasing since the 1980s. During the refugee crisis in 2015, dissatisfaction was greatest at 53 percent. In the Corona crisis, 39 percent of those surveyed were dissatisfied, during the financial crisis it was 25 percent.
In the past three crises, however, the proportion of “trustworthy” people was always greater than that of “concerned”. Most recently, 74 percent of those questioned believed in the problem-solving ability of democracy.
Basically, most Austrians prefer a democracy. 83 percent feel a democracy better than a dictatorship. Eight percent would prefer a dictatorship (“authoritarians”), for four percent it makes no difference whether they live in a democracy or a dictatorship (“alienated”). The proportion of this “authoritarian potential” has not increased significantly in the past 25 years. “Practically nothing changes in the basic democratic-political attitude,” sums up Ulram. Only the optimism-pessimism relation among those who believe in democracy is changing.
Willingness to vaccinate highest among convinced democrats
With regard to willingness to vaccinate, the proportion of those who were vaccinated or willing to vaccinate was the highest among Democrats at 57 percent (29 percent skeptics, 18 percent opponents). Most of the vaccine opponents could be assigned to the group of alienated people with 45 percent (34 vaccinated or ready to vaccinate, 21 percent skeptics). At 39 percent, the share of vaccine skeptics was highest among the authoritarians (36 vaccinated, 25 percent opponents of vaccinations).