Much Tunisian disaffection grows out of concern for the state of their nation. An overwhelming majority (81 percent) says the nation is headed in the wrong direction. And about half of Tunisians (52 percent) think the country is worse off today than when Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the ousted strongman, was in power. Only a third believes the country is better off.
As Tunisians' unhappiness with their country's direction and their national economy has grown, so has their disappointment in their new democracy. A broad majority (72 percent) is dissatisfied with how their democracy is working, including 42 percent who say they are not at all satisfied.
A majority prioritizes having a stable government, even if it is not fully democratic, rather than having a democratic government that may have some political instability. This is a dramatic reversal from 2012, when a majority chose democracy over stability.
Furthermore, middle-income Tunisians in particular have lost faith in democracy in the past year: preference for democracy over stability is down 24 points; preference for democracy as a political system is down 18 points; preference for democracy over a strong leader is down 16 points; and preference for a good democracy over a strong economy is down 14 points. The decline has occurred across all income classes, but it has been steepest among middle-income Tunisians.
Nevertheless, as Tunisians begin to choose a new government, democracy is not dead in the birthplace of the Arab Spring. Despite their disappointment, broad majorities of Tunisians continue to value key democratic principles, such as fair elections, free speech, and an uncensored media. But this Tunisian democracy is one with an Islamic flavor. Tunisians believe that the principles of Islam should influence their legal system and that religious leaders should have a role in political matters.
In the weeks ahead, Syria and possibly Egypt are likely to continue to dominate news emanating from the Middle East and North Africa. But developments in Tunisia should not be ignored. Changes in sentiment there about democracy bear watching for the insights they provide about the political evolution of the region.