Around the World, Democracy Is in Decline -- Led by the United States
February 5, 2018
Amanda Erickson / The Washington Post & The Economist
Democracy is in under siege around the world, according to a new report by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The annual Democracy Index tracks the health of the world's governments. And the results for 2017 are depressing. In 89 countries, democratic norms look worse than they did last year, the report's authors write. Just 4.5 percent of the world's residents live in fully functioning democracies, down from 8.9 percent in 2015. That precipitous drop is thanks, primarily, to the United States.
US Democracy Is in Grave Danger,
A New Economist Report Warns
Amanda Erickson / The Washington Post
The Economist Intelligence Unit's Interactive Democracy Index
(February 3, 2018) -- Democracy is in under siege around the world, according to a new report by The Economist Intelligence Unit.
The annual Democracy Index tracks the health of the world's governments. And the results for 2017 are depressing. In 89 countries, democratic norms look worse than they did last year, the report's authors write. Just 4.5 percent of the world's residents live in fully functioning democracies, down from 8.9 percent in 2015.
That precipitous drop is thanks, primarily, to the United States. In 2016, the Economist demoted the country from a "full" to "flawed" democracy, citing a "serious decline" in public trust in US institutions.
In 2017, the United States didn't fare any better, retaining its same rank and score. As the report's authors explain, President Trump was able to tap into the disempowerment felt by voters, who are frustrated with US political and economic stagnation.
Yet Trump's presidency has only further polarized the country, the authors say. Americans remain far apart on issues such as immigration and economic and environmental policy.
"The growing divisions between (and within) those who identify as Republicans and Democrats help to explain in part why the Trump administration is finding it so hard to govern, despite controlling both houses of Congress," they write.
The report's authors caution that this polarization foreshadows further democratic deterioration, particularly because polarization leads to a less functional government, one less able to compromise and come together to solve big issues. The trend toward partisanship is also tied to a shift in confidence in government.
Across the world, democratic norms are being eroded. Symptoms include curbs on freedom of speech, declining trust in institutions, a drop in popularity of mainstream political parties and erosion of civil liberties. A third of the world's population lives under authoritarian regimes.
The world's most democratic countries include Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Finland and Switzerland. Other major European countries -- such as Britain and Germany -- round out the list of "full" democracies. Only one country from the developing world, Uruguay, is represented.
Among the world's most authoritarian places are North Korea, Syria, Congo and Chad.
Spain's democratic bona fides suffered as a result of its attempt to stop Catalonia's independence referendum by shuttering polling stations, closing down websites and policing voters. In Eastern Europe, most countries performed even worse on the democracy index than usual, thanks to the rise of strongmen.
The report's authors do find some cause for hope. "If 2016 was notable for the populist insurgency against mainstream political parties and politicians in the developed democracies of Europe and North America," they write, "2017 was defined by a backlash against populism." Among the examples they include: a grass-roots effort to reverse Brexit and opposition to Trump.
Democracy Continues Its Disturbing Retreat
LONDON (January 31, 2018) -- More than half the countries in the latest update of a democratic-health index saw their scores decline. The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index167 countries scored on a scale of 0 to 10 based on 60 indicators.
A decade has passed since Larry Diamond, a political scientist at Stanford University, put forward the idea of a global "democratic recession". The tenth edition of the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index suggests that this unwelcome trend remains firmly in place.
The index, which comprises 60 indicators across five broad categories -- electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties -- concludes that less than 5% of the world's population currently lives in a "full democracy".
Nearly a third live under authoritarian rule, with a large share of those in China. Overall, 89 of the 167 countries assessed in 2017 received lower scores than they had the year before.
Norway remains the most democratic country in the ranking, a position it has held since 2010, and Western Europe accounts for 14 of the 19 "full democracies" that make up the ranking's top tier. Nonetheless, the region's average score slipped slightly in 2017, to an average of 8.38 points out of 10.
The Spanish government's attempt to stop Catalonia's independence referendum by force on October 1st caused the country's score to fall by 0.22 points, leaving it just 0.08 points above the "flawed democracy" threshold.
In Malta, the unresolved murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption blogger, raised questions about the rule of law and the authorities' willingness to investigate sensitive crimes, leading to a drop of 0.24 points.
And France, already a "flawed democracy" according to the taxonomy of the index, fell further down the table, even though its voters firmly rejected a far-right candidate in a presidential election last year. The country's civil-liberties score declined because its legislature passed a law expanding the government's emergency powers.
The star performer in the 2017 rankings is the Gambia. After 22 years of rule by Yahya Jammeh, a dictator who suppressed political freedoms, centralized powers within his ethnic group and used the army to instill fear, the country enjoyed its first-ever democratic transfer of power last year. As a result, its democracy score improved from 2.91, classified as an "authoritarian regime", to 4.06, a "hybrid regime" 30 places higher in the rankings.
Conversely, the most notable declines occurred in Indonesia, which fell from 48th place to 68th, and Venezuela, whose score dropped into the "authoritarian regime" category. America sits in 21st place in the ranking, level with Italy. It remains a "flawed democracy" for the second year in a row.
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