Mapped: 200 Years of Political Regimes, by Country
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Mapped: 200 Years of Political Regimes, by Country

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Mapped: 200 Years of Political Regimes, by Country

Do civilians get a representative say in how the government is run where you live?

While it might seem like living with a basic level of democratic rights is the status quo, this is only true for 93 countries or territories today—the majority of the world does not enjoy these rights.

It also might surprise you that much of the progress towards democracy came as late as the mid-20th century. This interactive map from Our World in Data paints a comprehensive picture of democratic rights across the globe.

Which Countries Achieved Democracy First?

The three famous first words in the U.S. Constitution—“We The People…”—paved the way for the birth of a federal democratic republic in 1789. This makes the United States of America the world’s oldest uninterrupted democracy today.

That said, the classification system in the interactive map above provides a slightly different perspective. It draws from the Regimes of the World (RoW) classification and the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project, and establishes four major classifications of political systems:

  1. Liberal Democracy
    Citizens have further individual and minority rights, are equal before the law, and the actions of the executive are constrained by the legislative and the courts.
    32 countries/territories in 2020
  2. Electoral Democracy
    Citizens have the right to participate in meaningful, free and fair, and multi-party elections.
    61 countries/territories in 2020
  3. Electoral Autocracy
    Citizens have the right to choose the chief executive and the legislature through multi-party elections; but they lack some freedoms, such as the freedoms of association or expression, that make the elections meaningful, free, and fair.
    64 countries/territories in 2020
  4. Closed Autocracy
    Citizens do not have the right to either choose the chief executive of the government or the legislature through multi-party elections.
    42 countries/territories in 2020

Under the classification system used here, it’s arguable that Switzerland was the first country to achieve a fully liberal democracy status in 1849, followed by Australia in 1858.

The Least Democratic Countries

Our World in Data also looks at how the global population breaks down by political regime.

The following chart demonstrates the share of the global population living under each type of regime since 1800, in relative or absolute terms.

While the global population has increased tremendously in 200 years, so has the number of civilians living under stricter political systems. Today, 1.9 billion people live in closed autocracies, of which nearly 75% live in China alone.

The major dip observed at the very end of the above chart comes from India. According to the data source, the nation flipped from electoral democracy to electoral autocracy status in 2019. As the second-most populous country, this change affected nearly 1.4 billion people.

Finally, while the data in the above maps and charts ends in 2020, notable events have taken place in recent months that may affect the number of people living in different political regimes.

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-2021 caused the country to slide into closed autocracy status, and as the current conflict in Ukraine/Russia heats up, it’s possible that more people may find themselves living under non-democratic regimes going forward.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Politics

Which Countries are the Most Polarized?

This chart plots polarization for various countries based on the Edelman Trust Institute’s annual survey of 32,000+ people.

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Which Countries are the Most Polarized?

How do you measure something that’s made headlines for half a decade but is still difficult to quantify? We’re talking about polarization.

Even within the social sciences, polarization covers everything from racial segregation, to labor skill levels, to class divide, to political ideology.

How Do You Quantify Polarization?

Edelman’s data on which countries are the most polarized comes from survey results asking respondents two very simple questions:

  • How divided is their country?
  • How entrenched is the divide?

The questions help bring to light the social issues a particular country is facing and the lack of consensus on those issues.

Plotted against each other, a chart emerges. A country in the top–right corner of the chart is “severely polarized.” Countries located closer to the lower–left are considered less polarized.

In the report, Edelman identifies four metrics to watch for and measure which help quantify polarization.

Economic AnxietiesWill my family be better off in five years?
Institutional ImbalanceGovernment is viewed as unethical and incompetent.
Class DividePeople with higher incomes have a higher trust in institutions.
Battle for TruthEcho chambers, and a low trust in media.

Following Edelman’s metrics, countries with economic uncertainty and inequality as well as institutional distrust are more likely to be polarized. Below, we look at key highlights from the chart.

Severely Polarized Countries

Despite being one of the largest economies in Latin America, Argentina is the most polarized country surveyed by a large margin. Foreign loan defaults, a high fiscal deficit, and now surging inflation have created a perfect storm in the country.

43% of the Argentinian respondents said they will be better off in five years, down 17 percentage points from last year.

Along with fiscal upheaval, Argentinians are also dealing with enduring corruption in the public sector and abrupt policy reversals between governments. Only 20% of those surveyed in Argentina said they trusted the government—the least of all surveyed countries.

Here are all six of the countries considered to be severely polarized:

    🇦🇷 Argentina
    🇨🇴 Colombia
    🇺🇸 United States
    🇿🇦 South Africa
    🇪🇸 Spain
    🇸🇪 Sweden

In the U.S., heightened political upheaval between Democrats and Republicans over the last few years has led to strengthening ideological stances and to an abundance of headlines about polarization. Only 42% of respondents in the country trust the government.

And in South Africa, persistent inequality and falling trust in the African National Congress also check off Edelman’s metrics. It’s also second after Argentina with the least trust in government (22%) per the survey.

Moderately Polarized Countries

The biggest cluster of 15 countries are in moderately polarized section of the chart, with all continents represented.

    🇧🇷 Brazil
    🇰🇷 South Korea
    🇲🇽 Mexico
    🇫🇷 France
    🇬🇧 United Kingdom
    🇯🇵 Japan
    🇳🇱 Netherlands
    🇮🇹 Italy
    🇩🇪 Germany
    🇳🇬 Nigeria
    🇹🇭 Thailand
    🇰🇪 Kenya
    🇨🇦 Canada
    🇦🇺 Australia
    🇮🇪 Ireland

Some are on the cusp of being severely polarized, including economic heavyweights like Japan, the UK, France, and Germany. On the other hand, smaller economies like Thailand, Kenya, and Nigeria, are doing comparatively better on the polarization chart.

Less Polarized Countries

Countries with fair economic outlook and high trust in institutions including China, Singapore, and India are in the bottom left sector of the chart.

    🇮🇩 Indonesia
    🇨🇳 China
    🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
    🇸🇬 Singapore
    🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
    🇲🇾 Malaysia
    🇮🇳 India

It’s interesting to note that of the seven countries in that sector, three are not democracies. That said, there are also more developing countries on this list as well, which could also be a factor.

Looking Ahead

Edelman notes that polarization is both “cause and consequence of distrust,” creating a self-fulfilling cycle. Aside from the four metrics stated above, concerns about the erosion of civility and weakening social fabric also lead to polarization.

Edelman polarization quote

As global events unfold in 2023—including looming worries of a recession—it will be fascinating to see how countries might switch positions in the year to come.

Where does this data come from?

Source: The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer

Data note: Survey conducted: Nov 1 – Nov 28, 2022. Survey included 32,000+ respondents in 28 countries. Russia was omitted from this year’s survey. See page 2 of the report for more details.

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