It is a notable irony that as democracy replaces other forms of governing throughout the world, citizens of the most established and prosperous democracies (the United States and Canada, Western European nations, and Japan) increasingly report dissatisfaction and frustration with their governments. Here, some of the most influential political scientists at work today examine why this is so in a volume unique in both its publication of original data and its conclusion that low public confidence in democratic leaders and institutions is a function of actual performance, changing expectations, and the role of information.
The culmination of research projects directed by Robert Putnam through the Trilateral Commission and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, these papers present new data that allow more direct comparisons across national borders and more detailed pictures of trends within countries than previously possible. They show that citizen disaffection in the Trilateral democracies is not the result of frayed social fabric, economic insecurity, the end of the Cold War, or public cynicism. Rather, the contributors conclude, the trouble lies with governments and politics themselves. The sources of the problem include governments' diminished capacity to act in an interdependent world and a decline in institutional performance, in combination with new public expectations and uses of information that have altered the criteria by which people judge their governments.
Although the authors diverge in approach, ideological affinity, and interpretation, they adhere to a unified framework and confine themselves to the last quarter of the twentieth century. This focus--together with the wealth of original research results and the uniform strength of the individual chapters--sets the volume above other efforts to address the important and increasingly international question of public dissatisfaction with democratic governance. This book will have obvious appeal for a broad audience of political scientists, politicians, policy wonks, and that still sizable group of politically minded citizens on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific.