In the spring of 2021, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) conducted public opinion research, in Slovakia on citizens’ perceptions of democracy, governance, the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitics, and disinformation. Research results are shared with civic and political actors across the region to inform them about changes and trends in citizen’s perceptions on a range of in-country issues as well as on the circulation and impact of disinformation and anti-democratic narratives.
Citizens’ perceptions of and trust in state institutions and social trends
Generally speaking, Slovak society is not only dissatisfied with the performance of individual political actors and institutions, but also with the direction of the country as a whole. These negative perceptions can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and its societal impact, but at the same time, such level of polarization has not been recorded in Slovakia before. Slovak society is gradually falling into anomie, and individuals are becoming more and more distant and estranged from each other. This is not only confirmed by the results of this research, but Slovak society has been showing signs of anomie for a longer time. The level of trust towards the political system, democracy, society and even towards individuals continues to decrease, influenced mainly by decreasing of political and social capital represented by skilled younger generation that is leaving the country and limited willingness by experts to engage in good governance practices. The country lacks political and civic leaders, a well-established party system with grassroots political movements, and youth organizations. And these mixture with low improvement of civic education, and lack of education towards public values and knowledge how democracy should be working had an impact on the low level of trust towards politics in general, and political elites. Recent investigations indicate that corruption in the judicial system is worse than in the nineties because political elites are satisfied with the status quo, older judges remain in their positions, and newcomers absorb principles of the new “Carpathian style of politics”.
Citizens’ perceptions of democracy, democratic processes, and leadership in Slovakia
In general, Slovak citizens have limited trust in the political system and the government and have limited knowledge of and experience with engaging in democratic processes at the national and local level. Citizens have never been taught about democratic values and culture during the democratic transition period after 1989 as during that period, all efforts were focused on the economic transition rather than the democratic and cultural. As a result, citizens are disengaged with politics and have little faith in democratic processes and outcomes.
The gap between reality and citizens’ perception of reality is widening and calls for strong political leaders to bring order and reverse the disintegration of the system increasingly resonate with society. Slovak citizens generally support democratic rule, but they can easily be convinced to support a strong, authoritarian leader if they are convinced that would increase their economic situation and quality of life.
▪ Slovak citizens prefer improvement of quality of life over the quality of democracy (68 percent of respondents agreed with this statement). Democracy is not considered as a good base for the recovery of the post-covid society and system;
▪ Even when Slovak individuals believe that the democratic transition after 1989 was a positive shift in the recent history (91 percent) they are feeling that it is retrieving, and it is becoming even worst (52 percent) in all levels of society and among all social groups;
▪ More than a third of Slovak individuals (37 percent) do not think that Western values such as diversity and inclusion should be incorporated in Slovak society. Even progressive and liberal/libertarian voters agreed with these statements, just 41 to 43 percent are in favor of pro-Western values;
▪ The President of the Slovak Republic is the most highly favored political institution in Slovakia. 56 percent of respondents are satisfied with the functioning of President of Slovak Republic, compared to a 13 percent favorability of the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, and 10 percent favorability of the performance of political parties;
▪ The support towards the European Union (EU) is stable at 46 percent, and high, in comparison with other international institutions or foreign actors such as NATO (28 percent), Russia (33 percent), China (18 percent), United States (US)(21 percent), or Turkey (10 percent).
▪ Eighty-four (84) percent of respondents believe there is disinformation in the media. Television is the dominant media channel for citizens to get informed about political and societal issues. 87 percent of respondents consider this their prime media channel;
▪ Facebook (76 percent), YouTube (59 percent) and Instagram (34 percent) are predominantly the preferred platforms for information, but respondents prefer to discuss politics and news in-person rather than online;
▪ Respondents consider the COVID-19 pandemic as a minor problem, only 5 percent believe it is a national priority. This low rate could be a result of citizens’ fatigue with the topic, poor communication by political elites about COVID-19 restrictions, or the lack of information about the end of the pandemic or positive prospects;
▪ In terms of the most preferred political system, 53 percent of respondents are in favor of democracy despite its challenges and shortcomings, and 53 percent would prefer a political system ruled by a strong leader;
▪ 61 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Only the voters and supporters of governmental political parties agreed with the opposite statement – that the country is heading in the right direction. Even among these individuals, differences can be observed in support of this statement between voters and supporters of different parties (Ordinary People and Independent candidates (81 percent), For People (53 percent), We are Family and Freedom and Solidarity (50 percent).