Report by The Economist
Global democracy continued its decline in 2020, according to the latest edition of the Democracy Index from our sister company, The Economist Intelligence Unit. The annual survey, which rates the state of democracy across 167 countries based on five measures—electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties—finds that just 8.4% of the world’s population live in a full democracy while more than a third live under authoritarian rule. The global score of 5.37 out of ten is the lowest recorded since the index began in 2006.
Government-imposed lockdowns and other pandemic-control measures led to a huge rollback of civil liberties in 2020, causing downgrades across the majority of countries. Confronted by a new, deadly disease to which humans had no natural immunity, most people concluded that preventing a catastrophic loss of life justified some temporary loss of freedom. The ranking penalised countries that withdrew civil liberties, failed to allow proper scrutiny of emergency powers or denied freedom of expression—regardless of whether there was public support for government measures. In France for example, severe lockdowns and national curfews led to a small but significant decrease in its overall score and the country dropped into the “flawed democracy” category.
The pandemic did not put a stop to rising levels of political engagement. Turnout in the American presidential election in November was the highest for 120 years and the country recorded its best political participation score since the index began. But public trust in the democratic process was dealt a blow by the refusal of Donald Trump and many of his supporters to accept the election result, and the United States remains in the “flawed democracy” category.
The star performer, measured by the change in both its score and rank, was Taiwan, which was upgraded to a “full democracy” after rising 20 places in the global ranking from 31st to 11th. Taiwan went to the polls in January 2020, and a strong voter turnout, including among young people, demonstrated the resilience of its democracy.
Elections do not always lead to democratic progress. Although Mali held parliamentary elections in March 2020 that were broadly free and fair, the results were nullified when the country suffered a coup in August by military officers aggrieved by a lack of progress against jihadist insurgents. Mali’s drop of 11 places down the rankings is typical of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, which suffered a terrible year for democracy.
This year is not off to a promising start, with an insurrection in America’s Capitol and a military coup in Myanmar. Democrats will hope that a gradual loosening of covid-19 restrictions will give them more reason to cheer.
To read full report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, click here.