Mapped: The State of Democracy Around the World
The world’s (almost) eight billion people live under a wide variety of political and cultural circumstances. In broad terms, those circumstances can be measured and presented on a sliding scale between “free” and “not free”—the subtext being that democracy lies on one end, and authoritarianism on the other.
This year’s Democracy Index report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), is one such attempt to apply a score to countries based on how closely they measure up to democratic ideals.
According to EIU, the state of democracy is at its lowest point since the index began in 2006, blamed in part on the pandemic restrictions that saw many countries struggling to balance public health with personal freedom.
In this year’s report, the EIU reported a drop of the average global score from 5.37 to 5.28, the biggest drop since 2010 after the global financial crisis. This translates into a sobering fact: only 46% of the population is living in a democracy “of some sort.”
Let’s dive a bit deeper into what this means.
Percentage of Population by Regime Type
In 2021, 37% of the world’s population still lived under an authoritarian regime. Afghanistan tops this list, followed by Myanmar, North Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria. Of course, China has a big share of the population living under this style of regime.
On the other side of the spectrum we have full democracies, which only account for 6.4% of the population. Norway tops this list, followed by New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland.
|Regime Type||No. of Countries||Share of countries||Share of World Population|
Let’s explore the characteristics of each of the four types of regime according to the EIU:
Full democracies are nations where:
- Civil liberties and fundamental political freedoms are respected
- Valid systems of governmental checks and balances exist
- There are limited problems in democratic functioning
- Media is diverse and independent
Flawed democracies are nations where:
- Elections are fair and free
- Basic liberties are honored but may have issues
- There are issues in the functioning of governance
Hybrid regimes are nations where:
- Electoral fraud or irregularities occur regularly
- Pressure is applied to political opposition
- Corruption is widespread and rule of law tends to be weak
- Media is pressured and harassed
- There are issues in the functioning of governance
Authoritarian regimes are nations where:
- Political pluralism is nonexistent or limited
- The population is ruled by absolute monarchies or dictatorships
- Infringements and abuses of civil liberties are common
- Elections are not fair or free (if they occur at all)
- Media is state-owned or controlled directly or indirectly by the ruling regime
- The judiciary system is not independent
- Criticism of the government is censored
Global Democracy Index by Region
As mentioned earlier, in 2021, the global democracy score declined from 5.37 to 5.28. This was driven by a decline in the average regional score, but every region has a different reality. Let’s take a look at the democratic state of each region in the world.
North America (Canada and U.S.) is the top-ranked region in the Democracy Index with an average score of 8.36, but this dropped significantly from 8.58 in 2020.
Both countries have dropped their positions in the global ranking, however, Canada still maintains the status as a full democracy.
The U.S. is still classified by EIU as a flawed democracy, and has been since 2016. The report points to extreme polarization and “gerrymandering” as key issues facing the country. On the bright side, political participation in the U.S. is still very robust compared with the rest of the world.
Latin America and the Caribbean experienced the largest decline in regional scores in the world. This region dropped from 6.09 in 2020 to 5.83 in 2021. This decline shows the general discontent of the population about how their governments have handled the pandemic.
In this region, the only countries falling under the full democracy category are Costa Rica and Uruguay. On the other side of the spectrum, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba fall under the authoritarian regime classification.
In 2021, Western Europe is the region with the most full democracies in the world.
In fact, four out of the top five full democracies are in this region: Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. A notable downgrade in this region happened in Spain; the country is now considered a flawed democracy.
Eastern Europe paints a different picture, where there is not a single full democracy. Three countries (Moldova, Montenegro, and North Macedonia) were upgraded from being considered hybrid regimes to flawed democracies.
Ukraine’s score declined to 5.57, becoming a hybrid region. Russia’s score also declined to 3.24 keeping the authoritarian regime status. It’s important to note that this report by the EIU was published before the invasion of Ukraine began, and the conflict will almost certainly impact scores in next year’s report.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the most countries at the bottom of the Democracy Index rankings.
The fact is that 23 countries are considered “authoritarian regimes”. Meanwhile, there are 14 countries that are hybrid regimes, six countries under flawed democracy, and only one country, Mauritius, is considered a full democracy.
In North Africa, four countries are considered authoritarian regimes: Sudan, Egypt, Libya, and Algeria. Only Morocco and Tunisia fall into the hybrid regime classification.
Middle East and Central Asia
This region concentrates a substantial number of countries classified as authoritarian regimes. In fact, the region’s overall democracy score is now lower than what it was before the start of the Arab Spring in 2010.
There are no countries falling under the category of full democracy in this region. Only Israel (7.97) and Cyprus (7.43) are considered flawed democracies. Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and Pakistan fall under the category of hybrid regimes, and the rest of the countries in the region are considered authoritarian regimes.
East Asia and Oceania
This is broad region is full of contrasts. Aside from Western Europe, East Asia and Oceania contains the most full democracies: New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea, and Japan. There are also a high number of countries that fall under the category of flawed democracies.
It’s worth noting that some of the most contentious geopolitical relationships are between neighbors with big differences in their scores: China and Taiwan, or North and South Korea are examples of this juxtaposition.
Decline in Global Democracy Levels
Two years after the world got hit by the pandemic, we can see that global democracy is in a downward trend.
Every region’s global score experienced a drop, with the exception of Western Europe, which remained flat. Out of the 167 countries, 74 (44%) experienced a decline in their democracy score.
As pandemic restrictions continue to be lifted, will democracy make a comeback in 2022?
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.
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.
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 Anxieties||Will my family be better off in five years?|
|Institutional Imbalance||Government is viewed as unethical and incompetent.|
|Class Divide||People with higher incomes have a higher trust in institutions.|
|Battle for Truth||Echo 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:
🇺🇸 United States
🇿🇦 South Africa
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.
🇰🇷 South Korea
🇬🇧 United Kingdom
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.
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
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.
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.
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.
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