chapter  10
13 Pages

The ‘crisis’ of politics and communication in ageing democracies

This chapter looks at the varied debates on the crisis of politics and public engagement in mature democracies. For almost all concerned there is, at the minimum, a perception of political crisis. This is recorded in the views and behaviours of general publics in regard to political institutions and politicians. By the end of the twentieth century, electoral turnout was dropping, party memberships had sharply declined, and trust in political institutions was extremely low. These trends are to be found in a majority of established democracies across the globe, despite differences of political system and culture (see Norris, 2000, Pharr and Putnam, 2000, Dalton andWattenberg, 2002, Putnam, 2002, see figs. in Chapter 1). This perception of crisis, in itself, is damaging for the health and stability of democracy. In addition, at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the crisis of politics and public engagement seems to be more than one of mere perception. The global economy is struggling to come out of a deep depression that will burden many nations for years to come. Democracies everywhere are failing to confront other major problems, including: global warming, energy dependence on declining fossil fuels, drastic forthcoming global water and food shortages, growing trade and production imbalances, rising inequality and exclusion, and an ageing and increasingly unhealthy population. The current model of capitalist democracy looks financially and environmentally unsustainable in the long-term. The questions are: are we observing a substantive, long-term crisis of democracy,

or simply a series of relatively minor and cyclical phenomena? If there is a real crisis what are its root causes and are they treatable? The chapter begins with a discussion of the relevant crisis literature. Within this section are inserted summaries of the views of many of those interviewed for this project. It then highlights and synthesises some of the crisis themes as they appear through the chapters of the book.