Economic system

Does the political or economic system need to change? Opinions in the United States and Western Europe vary

In the United States and Western Europe, many people support large-scale systemic change. In four countries surveyed in November and December last year, around four in ten or more in each country describe their economic or political system as needing at least major change, if not complete reform. But what people prioritize – and if they prioritize both economic and political changes – varies by country, according to a new analysis of data from the Pew Research Center.

Here are five key findings about people’s attitudes towards systemic reform in the US, France, Germany and the UK.

This report is based on an analysis of two questions that asked people to what extent their country’s political and economic systems needed reform. The results for the political reform question were previously reported in a March 2021 report, and the results for the economic reform question can be found here.

For this analysis, we used data from nationally representative telephone surveys of 4,069 adults from November 10 to December 23, 2020 in the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

The questions used for this report, along with the answers, can be found here and here, and the survey methodology can be found here.

Only in the United States do more people say the political system needs change than their economic system. About one in five Americans (18%) think their political system needs comprehensive reform, and 47% say it needs major changes, compared to 10% and 40%, respectively, who say the same about the system economic. Germany, on the other hand, is the only country among the four where more people say their economic system needs at least major changes than they say about the political system. In France and the UK, similar shares see the need to reform political and economic systems.

A majority in France want major reforms for both their economic and political system, as do around four in ten in the US and UK. In France, 57% of respondents say their political and economic system needs at least major change, compared to 18% who think none needs reform. About two in ten or fewer in all four countries say either alone the political system or alone the economic system needs to be reformed. In the US and UK, a smaller proportion – 42% and 37%, respectively – say major changes are needed in both areas. In Germany, the largest part (39%) of the public says that no reform is necessary.

In France, a majority wants major changes in political and economic systems, as do pluralities in the US and UK

Although between 30% and 57% of people in the four countries want at least major changes in both their political and economic system, few (5% or less) in any country want “comprehensive reform” both.

In the UK and US, those on the ideological left are much more likely to call for major changes to the political and economic system. In the UK, 55% of people on the left say major changes are needed to both the political and economic system, compared to 28% of those on the right. Similarly, in the United States – where respondents placed themselves on a scale between liberal and conservative, rather than left and right – 68% of liberals prioritize changing both systems, compared to 26% of conservatives.

Ideological divides in attitudes towards the reform of political and economic systems in the United States, the United Kingdom and France

In Germany, the left and the right are about equally likely to say that major changes are needed for both political and economic systems, but the ideological left is much more likely to say that reform is needed for correct the economic system (30% against 17% of the right).

There are also significant partisan differences in the US and UK and more minimal differences in France and Germany. For example, 57% of Democrats and those leaning toward the Democratic Party think the US economic and political system needs major change or comprehensive reform, compared to 22% of Republicans and Republican supporters. In the UK, 50% of Labor Party supporters support political and economic reform, compared to 19% of Conservative Party supporters.

Those who have a favorable opinion of populist parties are, in general, no more likely to seek major changes in the political and economic system than those who have an unfavorable opinion of these groups. In France, for example, 59% of those who have a favorable opinion of the right-wing populist National Rally believe that both major economic and political reforms are needed – and about as many (57%) who have a unfavorable the views of this party agree. Opinions on needed reforms are also similar between supporters and non-partisan when it comes to the left-wing populist party La France Insoumise and the right-wing populist AfD party in Germany. And, in the UK, those with a favorable view of the Brexit Party (Reform UK) are actually more likely (57%) than those with an unfavorable view of the party (28%) to say no major reforms are needed to the political or economic system.

Supporters and non-supporters of populist parties in France and Germany share their views on economic and political reforms

Political and economic dissatisfaction colors people’s desires for major systemic change, as does the belief that his government hasn’t done a good job of handling the coronavirus pandemic. Those who distrust their government or are dissatisfied with democracy are more likely to call for political and economic change. In Germany, for example, those who are dissatisfied with democracy are about three times more likely to say that economic and political changes are needed than those who are satisfied (66% versus 21%). In the four countries studied, those who say that the statement “elected officials care about what ordinary people think” not describe their country well are more likely to call for both political and economic reform.

Satisfaction with democracy linked to desire for political and economic reform

Those who do not believe they have a good chance of improving their own standard of living and who believe the economy is doing poorly are also more likely to support systemic political and economic change.

People who think their country has done a bad job dealing with the coronavirus pandemic are also more likely to say political and economic changes are needed than those who think their country has handled things well. In France, for example, 72% of those who think their country has done a bad job think political and economic changes are needed, compared to 44% of those who approve of France’s response to COVID-19.

Laura Silver is a senior researcher specializing in global research at the Pew Research Center.