Global democratic backsliding driven by …. democracies?


The United States and its allies accounted for a significantly outsize share of global democratic backsliding in the last decade, according to a ‘new’ analysis by The New York Times. The findings are reflected in data recorded by the Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem), a Sweden-based nonprofit that tracks countries’ level of democracy across a host of indicators, it reports:

American allies remain, on average, more democratic than the rest of the world. But nearly all have suffered a degree of democratic erosion since 2010, meaning that core elements like election fairness or judicial independence have weakened, and at rates far outpacing average declines among other countries…… In many cases, democracies like France or Slovenia saw institutions degrade, if only slightly, amid politics of backlash and distrust. In others, dictatorships like Bahrain curtailed already-modest freedoms. But, often, the trend was driven by a shift toward illiberal democracy.

The main findings of V-Dem’s report, Autocratization Turns Viral, include:

  • The global decline during the past 10 years is steep and continues in 2020, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.
  • The level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2020 is down to levels last found around 1990.
  • Electoral autocracy remains the most common regime type. Together with closed autocracies they number 87 states, home to 68% of the world population.
  • The world’s largest democracy turned into an electoral autocracy: India with 1.37 billion citizens.
  • Liberal democracies diminished over the past decade from 41 countries to 32, with a population share of only 14%.

Washington-aligned countries backslid at nearly double the rate of non-allies, V-Dem data shows, complicating long-held assumptions about American influence, the Times adds:

The revelations cast democracy’s travails, a defining trend of the current era, in a sharp light. They suggest that much of the world’s backsliding is not imposed on democracies by foreign powers, but rather is a rot rising within the world’s most powerful network of mostly democratic alliances.

But the Times data is hardly ‘new’ – the V-Dem report was published in March 2021. Cynical observers might suspect a nefarious ruse to attract attention or even question US democracy promotion credentials in the run-up to December’s Summit for Democracy.


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