Democracy in Decline for Third of World’s Population

(CN) – New research shows that democratic qualities are declining in the United States and 23 other countries, representing about one-third of the global population.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Democratization, used a dataset called Varieties of Democracy, or V-Dem. It is comprised of over 3,000 democracy experts’ assessments across 202 countries.

The study looked at qualities associated with democracy such as autonomous media, open elections and free expression. It concluded that in 2017, some of those qualities were declining in 24 countries, including populous democracies like the United States and India.

The researchers analyzed “autocratization,” which they call “democratization in reverse,” using 19 million data points and 400 “variables on democracy, human rights, governance, rule of law, and corruption.”  They use the term “backsliding” to describe declines.

“In particular, the United States’ decline combined with an explicit denunciation of democracy as a foreign policy priority by the Trump administration does not bode well,” the study noted.

Recent years have seen a decline in factors such as “media autonomy, freedom of expression, and the rule of law,” according to study leader Dr. Anna Lührmann from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

“This worrisome trend makes elections less meaningful across the world,” she added.

For the first time since 1979, the number of countries facing a decline of democracy matched the number of countries advancing democratic qualities, the study found.

Besides the U.S. the “main backsliders” were Brazil, Poland, Turkey, Croatia and Romania.

The small West African nations Burkina Faso and Gambia were defined as the “main advancers.”

In 2016, Gambia’s long-running autocrat stepped down after losing the presidential election, and Burkina Faso held peaceful elections after a period of military rule, the study noted.

Elections are still strong worldwide and improving in some countries, according to the study’s metrics, but other factors have declined.

Elections are both “visible” and “verifiable” factors by which to measure democracy, the researchers noted, while “the most negative developments occur in ways that are less conspicuous.”

“Government censorship of the media and harassment of journalists can occur gradually and by relatively hidden means such as inducements, intimidations, and co-optation,” the study noted. “Such tactics lead naturally to increasing levels of self-censorship and less explicit criticism of the government.”

For example, India has not seen significant declines in its “core electoral aspects” but has instead experienced “infringements on media freedom and civil society activities.”

And since the election of Donald Trump, the U.S. is “significantly less democratic” than it was ten years ago.

“Measures of effective oversight and use of investigative power of the executive by the legislature, opposition party oversight, compliance with the judiciary, and executive respect for the constitution have all declined,” the study found.

Study leader Dr. Lührmann was the youngest-ever member of the German parliament when she took the seat for the Green Party in 2002, at the age of 19.

Last year, in conjunction with the V-Dem Project, Lührmann and two other researchers published a Washington Post editorial about their findings.

“Although the average level of democracy in the world has declined to where it was 10 to 15 years ago, the decline is moderate,” they wrote.

“Ultimately, citizens in advanced democracies should remain vigilant against democratic backsliding but we should also celebrate major gains in the quality of democracy among less democratic countries,” she said.

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