Reviewing Stocks performance on Yahoo found an article titled “US demoted to ‘flawed democracy’ by The Economist’s research arm“.
It is here.
Took a quick look at it.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2016
Here is the big picture courtesy of the Economist.
Revenge of the “deplorables”
This is the ninth edition of the Democracy Index. It records how global democracy fared in 2016. The title of this year’s report refers to the popular revolt in 2016 against political elites who are perceived by many to be out of touch and failing to represent the interests of ordinary people (“political elites” refers primarily to governments, legislatures, state institutions and political parties, though it also encompasses the media, expert bodies and international organisations). It was a revolt that was foretold in recent editions of the Democracy Index, which have focused on the growing disconnect between political elites and the people that is particularly evident in the world’s most mature democracies. The UK’s vote in June 2016 to leave the EU (Brexit) and the election of Donald Trump as US president in November 2016 sent shock waves around the globe. Both were an expression of deep popular dissatisfaction with the status quo and of a hankering for change. A triumph of democracy or a threat to it? This was the question posed by the dramatic political events of 2016. The answer from many was unequivocally negative. The Brexit vote and the election of Mr Trump were for many liberals nothing more than outbursts of primal emotions and visceral expressions of narrow-minded nationalism. Countless commentaries following the shock results blamed popular ignorance and xenophobia for the Brexit and Trump results and implied that those who voted for these outcomes were at best political illiterates who had been duped by “post-truth politics” or, at worst, bigots and xenophobes in thrall to demagogues. The intensity of the reaction to the Brexit and Trump victories is commensurate with the magnitude of the shock to the political system that they represent and the strength of feeling on both sides of the political divide. A strong attachment to the post-war, liberal, democratic order makes it difficult for those on the losing side to come to terms with what happened in 2016. However, such a powerful rebuke to the political class demands a wide-ranging investigation of its causes. In recent decades, political elites have become unused to having their worldview challenged and have largely assumed that the values represented by the liberal democratic consensus are shared by the vast majority of the electorate. The events of 2016 have proven that this is definitely not the case in the UK or the US and the populist advance elsewhere suggests that it is probably not true for many other democracies in Europe. Shock at the results and fear of the changes that they denote may help to explain the reluctance of some opponents of Brexit and Trump to examine fully why they lost the political argument. Instead of seeking to understand the causes of the popular backlash against the political establishment, some have instead sought to delegitimise the Brexit and Trump outcomes by disparaging the values of those who supported them. Even when they acknowledge that Brexit and Trump supporters had legitimate reasons to be unhappy with the status quo, some commentators suggest that their views and/or their choices are illegitimate. This negative interpretation of the seminal political events of 2016 fails to see anything encouraging in the increased political engagement and participation of ordinary people. The two votes captured the contradictions besetting contemporary democracy. They were symptomatic of the problems of 21st-century representative democracy and, at the same time, of the positive potential for overcoming them by increasing popular political participation. Insofar as they engaged and mobilised normally quiescent or absentee voters—and the UK referendum campaign was especially successful in this regard—the votes were a vindication of democracy. In their different ways, both events expressed a desire, often inchoate, for more democracy, or at least something better than what has been on offer in recent decades. The same can be said to a great degree of the increasing support in Europe for populist or insurgent political parties which are challenging the mainstream parties that have ruled since 1945. Of course, one referendum campaign or one populist victory at the polls does not change anything in and of itself. Popular engagement and participation need to be sustained to make a substantive difference to the quality of democracy. Populist victories may raise expectations of change that end up being dashed (the recent experience of Greece is a case in point), demoralising those who voted for it and encouraging more popular cynicism with the functioning of democracy. The predominant response among political elites to the events of 2016 has been to rue the popular backlash against the democratic order and to interpret it as a threat to the future of liberal democracy. Some have even questioned whether ordinary people should be trusted to make decisions about important matters such as the UK’s membership of the EU. Yet the popular backlash against the established order can also be seen as a consequence, not a cause, of the failings of contemporary democracy. We explore the various factors that led to the 2016 backlash in the section entitled “The roots of the contemporary crisis of democracy“.
2016: a year of global democratic recession and, for the US, demotion
In the 2016 Democracy Index the average global score fell to 5.52 from 5.55 in 2015 (on a scale of 0 to 10). Some 72 countries experienced a decline in their total score compared with 2015,
almost twice as many as the countries which recorded an improvement (38). The other 57 countries stagnated, with their scores remaining unchanged compared with 2015. In the 2016 Democracy Index five regions, compared with three in 2015, experienced a regression—eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and western Europe—as signified by a decline in their regional average score. Eastern Europe recorded by far the biggest decline (from 5.55 to 5.43). Not a single region recorded an improvement in its average score in 2016. Two regions—Asia & Australasia and North America—stagnated in 2016.
Almost one-half (49.3%) of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only 4.5% reside in a “full democracy”, down from 8.9% in 2015 as a result of the US being demoted
from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” (see Table 1, Democracy Index 2016 by regime type). Around 2.6bn people, more than one-third of the world’s population, live under authoritarian rule, with a large share being, of course, in China. According to the Democracy Index, 76 of the 167 countries covered by the model, or 45.5% of all countries, can be considered to be democracies. However, the number of “full democracies” has declined from 20 in 2015 to 19 in in this year’s Democracy Index. The US, a standard-bearer of democracy for the world, has become a “flawed democracy”, as popular confidence in the functioning of public institutions has declined. The score for the US fell to 7.98 from 8.05 in 2015, causing the world’s leading economic superpower to slip below the 8.00 threshold for a “full democracy”. Of the remaining 91 countries in our index, 51 are “authoritarian” and 40 (up from 37 in 2015) are considered to be “hybrid regimes”.
Popular trust in government, elected representatives and political parties has fallen to extremely low levels in the US. This has been a long-term trend and one that preceded the election of Mr Trump as US president in November 2016. By tapping a deep strain of political disaffection with the functioning of democracy, Mr Trump became a beneficiary of the low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives and political parties, but he was not responsible for a problem that has had a long gestation. The US has been teetering on the brink of becoming a “flawed democracy” for several years, and even if there had been no presidential election in 2016, its score would have slipped below 8.00. A similar trend of declining popular confidence in political elites and institutions has been evident in Europe over the past decade and helps to explain the outcome of the UK Brexit referendum in June 2016 as well as the growing ascendancy of populist movements across Europe. Popular confidence in government and political parties is a vital component of the concept of democracy embodied by the Democracy Index model. Growing popular disaffection with the key institutions of representative democracy has been a factor in the democratic regression of recent years and in the rise of insurgent, populist, anti-mainstream parties and politicians in Europe and North America.
Democracy Index 2016 highlights
A trust deficit causes the US to become a “flawed democracy”
Trust in political institutions is an essential component of well-functioning democracies. Yet surveys by Pew, Gallup and other polling agencies have confirmed that public confidence in government has slumped to historic lows in the US. This has had a corrosive effect on the quality of democracy in the US, as reflected in the decline in the US score in the Democracy Index. The US president, Donald Trump, is not to blame for this decline in trust, which predated his election, but he was the beneficiary of it. Popular confidence in political institutions and parties continues to decline in many other developed countries, too.
Brexit referendum leads to increased political participation in the UK
A 21st-century record turnout of 72.2% in the June 2016 Brexit referendum, compared with average turnouts of 63% in the four general elections since 2001, revealed a rise in popular engagement and participation that boosted the UK’s score in 2016 to 8.36 from 8.31 in 2015. The UK is in 16th place in the global ranking. The long-term trend of declining political participation and growing cynicism about politics in the UK seemed to have been reversed. There has also been a significant increase in membership of political parties over the past year.
Asia’s upward momentum stalls in 2016
Since we began producing the Democracy Index in 2006, Asia has made more headway in advancing democracy than any other region, increasing its regional average score from 5.44 in 2006 to 5.74 in 2016. However, despite making impressive progress over the past decade, the region is still some way from catching up with Latin America (average score 6.33), Western Europe (8.40) and North America (8.56) and cannot afford to stagnate, as it did in 2016. Latin America suffers a “populist hangover” In 2016 the rise of populism upset the political establishment and status quo in much of the world, but Latin America largely bucked the trend. Suffering from a “populist hangover”, the region began to move to calmer politics in 2016, with centre-right, pro-market candidates taking the helm of many countries. This followed the decade of the so-called “Pink Tide”, in which many countries elected leftwing populists in a backlash against the neo-liberal economics of the post-cold war era. Argentina ended 12 years of rule by the populist, left-wing Kirchners in December 2015, bringing the centreright, pro-business candidate Mauricio Macri to the presidency. Peruvian voters elected a centreright technocrat, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, after the five-year presidency of the left-wing Ollanta Humala. The Brazilian Congress impeached the president, Dilma Rousseff, of the left-wing Partido dos Trabalhadores (which has held the presidency since 2003) for contravening budget rules.
Democratic backsliding in 19 countries in eastern Europe
In eastern Europe, there is a mood of deep popular disappointment with democracy, and the former communist bloc has recorded the most dramatic regression of any region during the decade since we launched the Democracy Index. In 2016 the region featured the largest number of country regressions (19), with the remaining countries either stagnating (6) or improving only modestly (3). Not one state ranks as a full democracy, despite 11 being EU members. There was a notable weakening of electoral processes in several countries in the region in 2016, suggesting that even the formal trappings of democracy are being called into question.
Sub-Saharan Africa is beating eastern Europe on political participation, but lags behind on formal democracy
Reflecting the scant democratic progress made in Sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, the region’s average score in the Democracy Index has remained relatively flat since 2011 (dipping slightly to 4.37 in 2016 from 4.38 in 2015). Political participation and political culture have improved over the past five years (albeit with a few notable exceptions), but this has been offset by deteriorating scores for civil liberties and the functioning of government. Moreover, while elections have become commonplace across much of the region, the regional score for electoral processes has remained persistently low, reflecting a lack of genuine pluralism in most countries.
The long Arab winter continues, and Tunisia slumps in the rankings
With the exception of Tunisia, the Arab Spring has given way to a wave of reaction and a descent into violent chaos, and even Tunisia experienced a reversal of fortunes in 2016. Widely regarded as having been the sole democratic success of the Arab Spring, Tunisia slipped by 12 places to 69th in the Democracy Index global ranking in 2016. Tunisia’s transition to democracy over the past five years has coincided with a very poor economic performance, and this trend continued in 2016, undermining the hope of young Tunisians that democracy would bring improved economic prospects. Similarly, Algeria’s score deteriorated owing to less favourable perceptions among the population of the benefits of democratic governance.
Brexit, Trump and the 2016 revolt against the elites
The parallels between the June 2016 Brexit vote and the outcome of the November 8th US election are manifold. In both cases, the electorate defied the political establishment. Both votes represented a rebellion from below against out-of-touch elites. Both were the culmination of a long-term trend of declining popular trust in government institutions, political parties and politicians. They showed that society’s marginalised and forgotten voters, often working-class and blue-collar, do not share the same values as the dominant political elite and are demanding a voice of their own—and if the mainstream parties will not provide it, they will look elsewhere. This is the main lesson for political leaders facing election in Europe in 2017 and beyond. Donald Trump’s victory was stunning because it was achieved in the face of the unremitting hostility of the entire political establishment, including in his own Republican Party, big business, the media (only one major newspaper and one major TV channel backed Mr Trump) and the cultural elite. This was even more the case for Mr Trump than for the “Leave” campaign in the UK, which had the support of sections of the establishment and some daily newspapers. Mr Trump’s campaign cleverly used social media, especially Twitter, to flatten the media and reach out to people directly. The thing that mainstream commentators said disqualified Mr Trump—his lack of political experience—was what qualified him in the view of so many who voted for him. He appealed to the angry, anti-political mood of large swathes of the electorate who feel that the two mainstream parties no longer speak for them. Exit polls on the day of the election revealed that a desire for change, for a break with the political status quo, was a major factor in determining voting choices in the election. This has been the message coming out of countless surveys of US voters from the Pew Research Centre, the Gallup polling agency and the World Values Survey reports, which have revealed a long term trend of declining confidence in political institutions and elites (see Box: A trust deficit is undermining democracy page 14). Pew surveys show that less than one in five Americans think that “you can trust the government to do what is right” all or most of the time. In June 2016 only 9% of US respondents expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress, according to Gallup. During the Brexit campaign similar surveys revealed a huge divide in levels of trust in government, politicians and experts between Remain and Leave supporters. The same trend of falling popular trust in institutions has been evident in Europe in recent decades, as confirmed by the regular Eurobarometer surveys.
The populists are mobilising people
The populists are channelling disaffection from sections of society that have lost faith in the mainstream parties. They are filling a vacuum and mobilising people on the basis of a populist, anti elite message and are also appealing to people’s hankering to be heard, to be represented, to have their views taken seriously. Populist parties and politicians are often not especially coherent and often do not have convincing answers to the problems they purport to address, but they nevertheless pose a challenge to the political mainstream because they are connecting with people who believe the established parties no longer speak for them. A striking and much-remarked upon feature of the populist upsurge, in both Europe and the US, is its increasingly (but not exclusively) working-class or blue-collar character. It is a revolt by large sections of society who feel that they have been abandoned politically, economically, socially and culturally by the mainstream political parties to which they used to give their allegiance. The non college educated, white vote was firmly for Mr Trump, with large percentages of the pro-Trump vote coming from “forgotten” voters in left-behind towns in the rust belt. A similar trend was evident in the UK, where working-class voters, including many who had not bothered to vote in recent general elections and some who had never previously bothered to vote, made it their business to cast their ballots for Brexit. The turnout in the Brexit referendum was above 72%, indicating that the electorate was motivated to turn out because they believed that their vote could change something for once. Similarly, in France Marine Le Pen of the Front national (FN) refers to the France beyond Paris of blue-collar workers, small farmers and low-level employees as the “France of the forgotten”. She is hoping to build on the momentum provided by the Brexit and Trump victories and persuade disenchanted French voters to break with the mainstream parties and vote for change as represented by the FN.
The political class against the “deplorables”
In Europe and the US, the political class seems increasingly out of touch with the people they purport to represent and often seems to express contempt for sections of the electorate. Hillary Clinton put half of Mr Trump’s voters in her “basket of deplorables”. In the UK, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) picked up support from workers in the Midlands and the north of England who no longer feel much connection with the Labour Party, the traditional party of the working class. Mr Trump deliberately drew on the popular revolt against the political order epitomised by the Brexit vote. He visited the UK the morning after the vote and hailed the result as signifying “independence day”. He drew the parallel often at his campaign-trail rallies. He invited Mr Farage to the US to address his audience. In the closing days of the campaign he said that if he won it would be “Brexit plus, plus, plus” for the US. Mr Trump was also able to count on the distinct lack of enthusiasm for Mrs Clinton among working class black and Hispanic voters.
Unsurprisingly, in 2016 black voters did not turn out for Mrs Clinton, a doyenne of the white political establishment who failed to inspire them with hope in the manner of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Although they voted overwhelmingly for Mrs Clinton, they did not do so in sufficient numbers to tip the result. The Hispanic voter turnout was higher than ever before, predominantly favouring Mrs Clinton, but Mr Trump increased the Republican share of the Hispanic vote compared with Mitt Romney in 2012.
The seismic nature of the Brexit and Trump victories should not be underestimated. Politics as we have known it for the past 70 years is not going to go back to “normal”. The Brexit and Trump breakthroughs could add further fuel to the populist challenge to the mainstream parties that is evident across Europe. The populists are prepared to debate the big political issues of the day, and they are mobilising people to become engaged in the political process and to vote. Ruling elites across Europe are facing the prospect of a gathering anti-elite revolt, and apart from dismissing the insurgent parties and their voters as being deluded, manipulated or simply beyond the pale, they have so far shown little inkling of how to respond. In the next section we look at the broader manifestations of the present crisis of democracy and examine their roots, and we analyse how a combination of economic, social and political factors contributed to the Brexit and Trump phenomena.
The roots of the contemporary crisis of democracy
There has been a growing perception in recent years that democracy is in trouble—even in crisis. With the exception of a few notable dissenters, this view is shared by the main institutions that measure and rank the world’s democracies. According to Larry Diamond, a democracy scholar, we have been living through a “mild democracy recession” since 2006. Below we discuss the features of that democratic recession and try to explain what has caused it. The pace of global democratisation accelerated after the start of its so-called “third wave” in 1974 and especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The concept of the third wave was coined by Samuel Huntingdon in his 1991 book, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. During the 1970s and 1980s more than 30 countries shifted from authoritarian to democratic political systems. In the 1990s the collapse of communism in eastern Europe led to the proliferation of independent states and new democracies across the eastern bloc. A democratic transition also got under way in the 1990s in Sub-Saharan Africa and continued in Latin America.
Symptoms of the malaise
In recent years, however, the wave of democratisation has slowed or, in the case of some countries, been reversed. Today the perception of democracy being in crisis is palpable and is in stark contrast to the triumphalism about democracy and the end of history that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Apart from the instances of democracy reversals, there has been a steady decline in many countries in some aspects of governance, political participation and media freedoms, and a clear deterioration in attitudes associated with, or conducive to, democracy. In Europe and the US the main features of regression are a declining trust in political institutions; other weaknesses in the functioning of government; the increasing role played by non-elected technocrats, experts and judges; increased voter abstention and declining political participation; and curbs on civil liberties, including media freedoms. All of these are having a corrosive effect on some long-established democracies, as expressed in the Democracy Index over many years. l Between 2006 and 2016 democracy has stagnated or regressed as illustrated by the average aggregate global democracy score. l Between 2006 and 2016 almost half of the 167 countries (81, or 48.5%) covered by the EIU’s Democracy Index registered a decline in their overall scores. l The biggest regressions have been in three regions—eastern Europe, North America and western Europe—which experienced a significant decline in their regional average scores between 2006 and 2016. l Of the 21 countries in western Europe, 13 suffered a regression as their scores declined between 2006 and 2016 (two stagnated and six improved).
The US score has declined significantly over the life of the Democracy Index, from 8.22 in 2006 to 7.98 in 2016, pushing the US into the “flawed democracy” category. The crisis of democracy is expressed in the failing traditional political party system; the growing gap between elites and electorates; and the rise of populist parties. The contemporary problems of democracy are clearly not just “over there”—in Russia, China, the Middle East or Africa. Democracy is in trouble in the West, in the mature democracies of western Europe and the US, which are no longer obvious beacons for those striving for democracy in the nondemocratic world. According to World Values Survey (WVS) data [waves 3-6 1995-2014], there appears to have been a sharp decline in the level of support for democracy as a system of government, especially among younger generations, and a rise in support for authoritarian alternatives, such as military rule, or other non-democratic alternatives, such as rule by experts. In several articles in the Journal of Democracy, Roberto Stefan Foa, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and Yascha Mounk, a lecturer on political theory at Harvard University’s department of government, presented evidence suggesting that a process of democratic deconsolidation might be under way. The two academics developed an early warning system, designed to test the health of a country’s democracy, based on three factors: the importance citizens attach to living in a democracy; public openness to non-democratic alternatives such as military rule; and whether public support for populist, anti-system parties is gaining ground. If public support for democracy is falling and the other two indicators are rising, this could be a sign that “democratic consolidation” is under threat, suggested the authors.
Waning support for democracy among the young
Foa and Mounk drew upon WVS data, which point to growing popular cynicism in the developed democracies of North America and western Europe about democracy as a political system. The data suggest that the older generations, born during the interwar period, attach a great deal of importance to living in a democracy, whereas the millennial generation (those born since 1980) are more indifferent. When asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how “essential” it is for them “to live in a democracy” 72% of those born before the first world war choose 10. Only one in three Dutch millennials attach maximum (10 on a scale of 1 to 10) importance to living in a democracy; in the US the number is slightly lower, at 30%. Waning support for democracy among the young is the result of a “cohort” effect rather than an “age” effect. For example, in 1995, only 16% of Americans born in the 1970s (then in their late teens or early twenties) believed that democracy was a “bad” political system for their country. Twenty years later, the number of “anti-democrats” in this same generational cohort had increased by around four percentage points, to 20%. The WVS data suggest that the next cohort, those born in the 1980s, is even more anti-democratic. In 2011, 24% of US millennials (then in their late teens or early twenties) considered democracy to be a “bad” or “very bad” way of running the country. Support for non-democratic alternatives is rising too according to the WVS data: the share of Americans who say that army rule would be a “good” or a “very good” thing rose from 1:16 in 1995 to 1:6 in 2014. That trend is even more pronounced among younger people. The same trend and the same generational differences were apparent in the WVS data for western Europe. Some have taken issue with Foa and Mounk, suggesting that the underlying data from WVS might be flawed or that other factors such as the pace of economic growth can help to explain the results. For example, Ronald F Inglehart, also writing in the Journal of Democracy, agrees with the two authors’ main conclusion that public faith in democracy has declined in recent decades and that there has been a rise in public support for non-democratic alternatives. However, he argues that their data suggest that this is mainly the result of a US period effect and that the US is distinctive because US democracy has become so dysfunctional in recent decades. There may be something to this argument, but the evidence from the WVS of similar, if less dramatic, trends in western Europe suggests that the US is not that distinctive. Foa and Mounk acknowledge that their research does not prove conclusively that democracy is deconsolidating—though they say that it should have us worried—and suggest that it is for political scientists to investigate further whether deconsolidation is happening and what are the possible causes of this development. The Democracy Index results of recent years point to at least a decade of regression in the most advanced democracies. In the next section we address some of the possible causes.
Why is democracy struggling?
There may be a consensus about democracy being in difficulty, but there is less agreement about the causes—and even less about what can be done about it. Several explanations have been advanced, but the dominant one blames the economic and financial crash of 2008-09 and the prolonged crisis that followed, which resulted in large GDP contractions in some countries, growing unemployment, inequality and poverty, and the euro zone sovereign debt crisis. The political dysfunction that characterised the official response to the crisis and the austerity measures that ensued have undermined the legitimacy of political elites and institutions in Europe and the US. Another related explanation is that globalisation in all its forms has created social, regional, generational and class divides and led to a large pool of people who feel they have been “left behind” and not benefited. There is some merit to these arguments, but they do not delve deep enough into the causes of today’s crisis, and they do not go back far enough. Fallout from the global economic and financial crisis of 2008-09 has undoubtedly led to a heightened mood of popular disenchantment with the functioning of democracy today. However, the crisis was not the cause of the poor state of democracy in the West; it merely helped to reveal long-standing weaknesses. Disappointment with democracy and populism preceded the 2008-09 crash. Regressive trends in democracy in Europe and the US can be traced back much further. Nor is contemporary disaffection with democracy simply a reaction to economic underperformance. That populist movements have come to prominence in rich and poor European countries alike suggests that they are not the product solely of the economic crisis. Economic issues are often not at the forefront of the populists’ concerns; issues of culture, identity, tradition and values dominate the populist discourse and resonate with their supporters. Dismissing the upsurge of populism in Europe as an anti-austerity “backlash” evades some uncomfortable truths. The assumption is that populism will fade away once conditions in Europe return to “normal”. This underestimates the deep roots of the popular revolt and the challenge to the political order that it represents. Those who see the populist revolt as a reaction against the consequences of globalisation get closer to understanding the causes of the anti-elite backlash, but even they underestimate other social, political and cultural factors that have contributed to the populist upsurge.
Towards a multi-faceted explanation of the popular revolt
The recent backlash against political elites and the growth of populist politics have deep roots, and their causes are multifaceted. Our account looks at the socioeconomic, structural-demographic and political-ideological forces that have led over many decades to the breakdown of popular faith in the liberal-democratic consensus as represented by political elites and parties in Europe and North America. Mass support for the system of government and the traditional parties was taken for granted in the post-war years of the 1950s and 1960s. However, as the long economic boom that followed the end of the second world war came to an end in the 1970s, everything began to change. The US economy is the biggest in the world, but it has been losing dynamism in recent decades. Comparing successive business cycles, we see that annual real GDP growth averaged 3.5% in the 1950s, 4.5% in the 1960s, 2.8% in the 1970s, 3% in the 1980s and 1990s and less than 2% over the past decade. Even in periods of relatively strong growth in recent decades, levels of investment, productivity growth and median wage growth have been weaker than in the 1970s. The pattern of slowing economic growth has been even more pronounced in many European economies. The end of the post-war boom led to structural changes in the advanced economies and a process of de-industrialisation. The number of manufacturing jobs, which once provided the livelihoods of non-college-educated workers, has declined dramatically in the US and in Europe. There were more than 18m manufacturing jobs in the US in the mid-1980s; today the number has declined to little more than 12m. Over the same period millions of manufacturing jobs in the US were exported abroad by corporations in search of cheaper labour. Technological innovation has also led to the shedding of manufacturing jobs on a large scale. A similar trend occurred in the UK, where the number of manufacturing jobs declined from a little less than 9m in 1966 to 2.6m in today. There has been a hollowing out of industrial towns, a growth in low-wage jobs for non-college educated workers and a rise in income inequality in the US especially. As we argue in our review of the Democracy Index results for the US in the next section, income inequality has been a major factor in fuelling political discontent. Real wages (after taking inflation into account) in the US have been stagnating for more than three decades. Typical American workers and the nation’s lowest-wage earners have experienced little or no growth in their real weekly wages: real weekly wages for the bottom 10% declined by 1% between 1979 and 2014; those for median earners increased by 7.9% over the same period; and those for the top 10% increased by 33.5%. (US Bureau of Labour Statistics, 2015) Between 1979 and 2007, before the 2008 crash, pay-cheque income of the top 1% of U.S. earners exploded by 256%.The average incomes of the bottom 90% of US earners increased by 16.7% over the same period. (Data from Inequality.org for the Institute for Policy Studies) At the same time, immigration in the US and in Europe has led to increased competition from millions of immigrants for blue-collar or working-class jobs. For white working-class men in their 30s and 40s in the US, participation in the labour force dropped from 96% in 1968 to 79% in 2015.
Collapse of communities
The social impact of deindustrialisation has been hugely negative. Charles Murray, an American sociologist, observed in his book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, that the consequences of these economic changes are visible across the country in terms of their negative social impact on communities, families, crime rates and rates of alcohol and drug addiction. A study by two Princeton economists, Anne Case and Nobel prize-winning Sir Angus Deaton, entitled “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century”, found that mortality rates among middle-aged white Americans have been rising at a dramatic rate, unlike anything seen in other racial and ethnic groups in the US or in their contemporaries in other rich countries. The rising annual death rate among this group is being driven not by the usual killers such as heart disease and diabetes, but by suicides and medical conditions stemming from substance abuse, alcoholic liver diseases and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids. In middle age, poorly educated American whites are dying at such a high rate that they are driving up the average death rate for all middle-aged white Americans. The death rate for whites aged 45-54 with no more than a high-school education increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2014. According to the study, the catastrophe for uneducated, middle-aged white males had only one parallel in a modern peacetime setting: the impact of HIV/AIDS on the gay community. In his book Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital, published in 2000, another American social scientist, Robert Putnam, explored some of the broader socioeconomic and structural demographic developments in recent decades that have led to a decline in civic engagement, social connectedness and political participation. One of the major developments has been the movement of women into the labour force. Over the course of several decades from the 1970s onwards, many millions of women have moved out of the home and into paid employment. Positive as this development has been for women liberated from domesticity, according to Putnam this social revolution has led to increasing pressures on the family and less civic participation by women and contributed to other demographic transformations, including fewer marriages, more divorces, fewer children, lower real wages. Bowling Alone argues that changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, women’s role and leisure pursuits have diminished social capital and undermined communities, leading to people becoming disconnected from family, friends, neighbours and democratic structures. In his latest book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, published in 2015, Putnam draws upon a huge volume of research undertaken especially for his book to expose the growing opportunity gap between children from rich and poor backgrounds. He contends that not only has absolute mobility stalled in the US since the 1970s (because economic and educational advances have stalled), but also that social mobility has stalled, threatening to puncture the American Dream.
The post-war party system begins to break down
Alongside these socioeconomic developments of recent decades came changes in the political arena. The post-war political order began to experience challenges from the 1970s, as the end of the postwar economic boom led to conflicts between governments and workers. The experience of the UK Labour Party is instructive. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the British economy was doing well, British politics was characterised by consensus politics, exemplified by a tripartite system of bargaining involving the state, the employers and the trade unions. Economic stagflation in the 1970s put this system under strain, as employers sought to restore profitability by shaking out industry and the state imposed cuts in welfare spending. The austerity policies of the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan in 1974-79 demoralised the unions and helped to prepare the ground for the subsequent, more confrontational approach of the Conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, in the 1980s. Labour’s state socialist policies were seen to have failed and workers began to desert the Labour Party. During the 1960s approximately 65% of the working-class vote went to Labour; by the 1980s this had fallen to 50%. Many of the policies pursued by the Thatcher governments of the 1980s found their echo in Reaganomics across the Atlantic and in the austerity policies pursued across the Channel by Socialist governments in France and Spain. This period saw the beginnings of the rupturing of the relationship between Europe’s post-war political parties and their traditional support base—especially, but not exclusively, that between social-democratic, labour and communist parties and their working-class supporters. Up to the 1980s, Europe’s political parties managed to retain most of their share of the vote and their party membership, but in the 1980s party membership began to fall away in most developed countries. By the 1990s the convergence of left and right on economic and social policies made it difficult for parties to maintain distinct identities. The decline in party membership accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s, and while the traditional political parties remain in place today, they are so disconnected from wider society that they bear no relation to their forebears of the 1950s. Parties of the left (social-democratic, socialist, communist) and the right (Christian-democratic, conservative), which dominated the post-war body politic, have lost touch with their traditional supporters and, as a consequence, have lost votes and influence. As they lost touch with their former social constituencies, political parties became closer to the state; they moved to the centre ground to try to widen their support base. Gradually the world view of party and political elites began to develop in contradistinction to, and in opposition to, that of the voters they had increasingly neglected and left behind. The revolt against the elites has been driven by economic and social factors, but it is also a consequence of the shift over the past few decades of the mainstream parties towards the centre ground of technocratic politics. There has been a growing estrangement of political parties from the electorate, as well as a growing gulf in the values held by political elites and ordinary people. More than anything, the 2016 events were a reaction against the way in which political elites have been conducting politics—by keeping the electorate at arm’s length, by avoiding the issues that are important to people, and by presuming that everyone shares their moral values. The 2016 revolt demonstrated that vast swathes of the electorate do not share those values and have had enough of being ignored.
New political fault lines
The old left-right political distinctions do not mean that much nowadays; instead the battle lines are being drawn over issues such as globalisation versus national sovereignty, cosmopolitanism versus national identity, and open borders versus immigration controls. The populists are winning ground because they have been talking about these things, whereas traditional political elites have evaded these issues. The Brexit and Trump votes have brought this divide out into the open. Instead of debating the merits or otherwise of these opposing standpoints, some have sought to delegitimise these views and disparage those who hold them either as xenophobes in thrall to dangerous demagogues or ignorant dupes of post-truth politics. Populists have mobilised people to become engaged in the political process and to vote, and have opened up debate about big questions that have often been ignored by the mainstream parties. The Brexit referendum in the UK encouraged political discussion among ordinary people to a degree that has been unheard of for decades. It resulted in the biggest electoral turnout in the UK for many years. This called into question the often held view that people are too apathetic to bother with politics. It suggests that when people believe that their involvement can make a difference, they will be motivated to participate. Since the Brexit vote, there has also been an increase in membership of all political parties, though this is nowhere near reversing the collapse in membership that has occurred in recent decades. Of course, some have drawn opposite conclusions about the way that populists are mobilising people. Faced with the Brexit vote, the Trump victory and the challenge from insurgent populist parties such as the Front national and Alternative für Deutschland, they have argued that democracy is not working and that it is wrong to trust ordinary people to make sensible decisions about politics. Andrew Sullivan in The New Yorker magazine argued that “democracies end when they become too democratic”. The criticism that democracy has become too direct, too popular and thus “too democratic” has been one reaction to the Trump victory and recent populist mobilisations in Europe. In particular, there has been a strong negative reaction to the increasing use of referendums to decide important questions. These are presented as a threat to the system of representative democracy. Arguably, however, the increasing recourse to referendums suggests that the prevailing system of representative democracy is failing to engage people in discussing the important issues of the day and is even seen to be excluding the public from having a say on questions that matter to them. The trend towards declining political participation, which has been a feature of all the advanced democracies in recent decades, is a threat to the future of democracy. Democracies do not end when they become “too democratic”; they begin to founder when they exclude the demos.
Democracy around the regions in 2016
The developed OECD countries of Europe dominate among the world’s “full democracies”; there are the two Australasian countries (but no Asian ones), one Latin American country (Uruguay) and one African country (Mauritius). The almost complete predominance of OECD countries among those ranked as “full democracies” suggests that level of economic development is a significant, if not a binding, constraint on democratic development. “Flawed democracies” are concentrated in Latin America (15), eastern Europe (13) and Asia (13), although western Europe now has six, including leading European countries such as France and Italy. Eastern Europe does not have a single “full democracy”, as some of the region’s most politically developed nations, such as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, have failed to establish a democratic political culture or encourage broad political participation. Even some of the formal trappings of democracy are now being called into question. Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) now have more nondemocratic countries than democratic ones, being home to 15 “hybrid” or “authoritarian” regimes and 13 “flawed democracies”. Many Latin American countries have fragile democracies, levels of political participation are generally low and democratic cultures are weak.
Asia and Australasia
Since we began producing the Democracy Index in 2006, Asia has made more headway in advancing democracy than any other region, increasing its regional average score from 5.44 to 5.74. Yet it also encompasses the widest variation—from New Zealand (globally ranked 4th in 2016, unchanged from 2015) through to North Korea (still at the bottom of the global ranking, in 167th place). Boasting two “full democracies” in Australasia and 13 “flawed democracies”, the majority of Asian countries are classified as democratic. However, despite impressive progress between 2006 and 2016, the region is still some way from catching up with Latin America (average score 6.33), Western Europe (8.40) and North America (8.56).
The Philippines held transformative elections in 2016 that brought a strongman back into government. Widespread public discontent with traditional elites’ failure to rein in rising economic inequality and voters’ concerns over domestic security helped Rodrigo Duterte, an erstwhile mayor, to secure the presidency. Having been in office for a little more than six months, Mr Duterte has already become embroiled in numerous international and domestic controversies. For instance, the harsh crackdown on the drugs trade and Mr Duterte’s heavy-handed style of governance have raised troubling questions about the rule of law and the integrity of the country’s fragile political institutions. We do not anticipate that Mr Duterte’s electoral win will encourage the rise of other strongmen in South-east Asia. The still-rapid pace of economic growth in that region will help to keep populist demands for more radical change at bay. Moreover, compared with the West, governments in the region generally have greater control over the political discourse. Discontent with ruling elites reared its head in South Korea in 2016, but this resulted in rising support for liberal parties. South Korea went through a difficult political year amid a wide-ranging corruption scandal that ultimately led parliament to vote for the impeachment of the conservative president, Park Geun-hye. South Korea’s president came under pressure as discontent against her built throughout the year, resulting in large anti-government rallies. Parliamentary elections in April 2016 were encouraging for the country’s developing democracy. Sparked by rising youth underemployment and discontent with economic policies, there was a significant increase in the youth vote. If sustained, this trend could shake up the country’s political dynamics. Australia’s general election granted the Liberal-National coalition another term in government. However, the coalition was left in a significantly weakened position, presaging a legislative impasse. In both Australia and New Zealand the electorate has little confidence in political parties, but public support for democratic institutions remains strong.
From slowdown to stagnation
Despite notable political and electoral developments in some countries in Asia in 2016, the regional average score remained unchanged from 2015 at 5.74. Progress has slowed in recent years and may remain elusive in coming years, held back by deeply embedded anti-democratic practices such as media censorship and tight restrictions governing assembly in countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. However, some countries—including Japan, South Korea, India and Taiwan—are close to being classified as “full democracies” and could make the transition over the coming years, depending on public support for democratic governance, increased voter turnout or stronger confidence in political parties. Japan lowered the voting age in 2015, but voter turnout at the upper house election in 2016 increased by just 2% compared with the previous poll in 2013, suggesting that increasing participation levels may not be achieved through such legal changes, and upgrades may be difficult to come by. Other countries, such as Myanmar, could regress in coming years. Its democratic transition is at an early stage, and the military continues to wield significant political power. Any major disagreements within the quasi-civilian government, for example regarding the fragile peace process with armed ethnic groups, could persuade the army to retake more political control.
Eastern Europe Eastern
Europe has performed poorly in our Democracy Index in recent years, held back by the lack of a political culture based on trust and popular disenchantment with the transition from communism. In the 2016 Democracy Index eastern Europe was the worst-performing region. It suffered the largest number of country regressions (19), with the remaining countries either stagnating (6) or improving only modestly (3). The regional average score fell for the third consecutive year to its lowest level, 5.43, since we first constructed the Democracy Index in 2006 (when the region had an average score of 5.76). Between 2006 and 2016 eastern Europe experienced the largest decline (0.33) of all the regions in its regional average score. Not one state ranks as a full democracy, despite 11 being EU members.
Within the region, countries can be divided into three performance tiers: a top group consisting of EU member states—all “flawed democracies”; a middle group including the western Balkan states, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and the Kyrgyz Republic—mostly “hybrid regimes”; and a lower tier of “authoritarian regimes” made up of Belarus, Russia and the remaining South Caucasus and Central Asian states. All three groups registered a deterioration in their scores on average, but the middle tier of states stood out as having experienced the sharpest regressions. These were driven by constitutional and electoral crises in Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro and the Kyrgyz Republic. The countries in the lower tier are all classified as “authoritarian regimes”, a category in which not one east European country improved its score. In the top tier of east European countries, Hungary’s and Poland’s poor performance in recent years has attracted significant attention. In 2016 Hungary modestly improved its score and ranking, while Poland slid further on the back of the wholesale replacement of the public media leadership, a new law setting up a single body to control non-governmental organisation (NGO) funding, and attempts to limit the right to protest. The top performers were the other Visegrad countries and the Baltic states, with Estonia leading the way, followed by the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia. The three newest EU member states, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania, made up the remainder of the leading group, and Bulgaria notably scored better than Poland and Hungary. Overall, the leading countries scored well in the electoral process and civil liberties categories, and more poorly in political participation and political culture. The eastern Europe region is characterised by low levels of popular support for democracy. Much of this stems from widespread disappointment with the political and economic transition from communism. Indeed, political culture is the region’s second-worst category, and recent surveys have affirmed this characteristic. The adult population in most countries shows only moderate or low interest in following politics, and there is widespread cynicism towards state institutions and political parties. This is exacerbated by political parties’ weak roots among voters and the poor functioning of many governments. Not a single country in the region evinces a high level of popular support for democracy.
Some alarming electoral developments
Despite the absence of a political culture based on trust, it had been assumed that formal democratic processes were relatively well established in the more developed countries in the region. However, the 2016 Democracy Index registered a marked weakening in many countries’ electoral processes. This is of significant concern, as it suggests that even the formal trappings of democracy are being undermined. While electoral process and pluralism remains the region’s best-scoring category—on which it performs better than the Asia & Australasia region despite a lower overall regional average score—in a number of the hybrid and authoritarian regimes there were significant irregularities in the voting process in 2016. Just as alarming are the unclear mechanisms for the orderly transfer of power from one government to another in many countries. This was illustrated most clearly by events in three of the hybrid regimes mentioned above. In Macedonia, the presidential pardons in April 2016 (later revoked in response to international pressure) for government leaders under corruption investigation were indicative of the extent to which government authority overwhelmed the nominal system of checks and balances. The pre-term parliamentary election was postponed twice owing to parties’ inability to agree that the appropriate conditions were in place for free and fair elections. In Montenegro, the opposition protested about irregularities in the conduct of the October 2016 election and the authorities said that they had thwarted an alleged coup attempt on election day. In the Kyrgyz Republic the president, Almazbek Atambayev, and his party are trying to consolidate power, and there is significant use of administrative resources that limits the ability of the opposition to gain power. In addition, in Serbia, which is classified as a “flawed democracy” for the first time in the postMilosevic period, there appear to have been irregularities in the conduct of the election and the election count in April 2016. Even in several EU member states there were setbacks. In Lithuania, corruption scandals in 2016 reduced trust in the mainstream parties, which were ejected from power in the October elections. In several EU members, including the Czech Republic, Estonia and Poland, fewer citizens see democracy as the best form of government. In Romania, the former ruling party’s victory in the parliamentary election was convincing, but the subdued turnout of 39.5% illustrates the low regard in which the electorate holds political parties and politicians. Authoritarian regimes such as Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, still nominally more pluralistic than Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, as usual performed particularly poorly in the electoral process and pluralism category. Even when democratic mechanisms were not called into question, public confidence in governments and democracy weakened. In Moldova, public confidence in the government fell to an all-time low as a result of the giant bank heist of late 2014. In Russia, the ruling party gained a constitutional majority in parliament, but the low turnout of 47.8%, which might also have been inflated by electoral fraud, suggests that support for the regime is weaker than the ruling party’s super-majority would imply.
Latin America remains the most democratic region of the developing world in our Index for another year (it scores behind only North America and western Europe). Nevertheless, the region’s average score has continued to decline, falling to 6.33 in 2016, from an annual average of 6.37 in 2011-15 and a peak of 6.43 in 2008. The region has relatively strong democratic fundamentals—including comparatively high scores for electoral process and pluralism and civil liberties—but the full consolidation of democracy in the region continues to be held back by issues regarding political effectiveness and culture. By and large, countries’ scores registered little change this year, and their placement in the global and regional ranking saw little movement. This middling state of democracy is reflected in regime type: the region counts just one full democracy, Uruguay (at 19), and one authoritarian regime, Cuba (at 128). Among the rest of the region’s countries there are 15 flawed democracies and seven hybrid regimes. In 2016 the rise of populism upset the political establishment and status quo in much of the world, but Latin America largely bucked the trend. Suffering from a “populist hangover”, the region began to move to calmer politics in 2016, with centre-right, pro-market candidates taking the helm of many countries. This followed the decade of the so-called “Pink Tide”, during which many countries elected left-wing populists in a backlash against the neo-liberal economics of the post-cold war era.
Argentina ended 12 years of rule by the populist, left-wing Kirchners in December 2015, bringing the centre-right, pro-business candidate Mauricio Macri to the presidency, who has worked to restore economic credibility to the country and return the economy to growth. In June 2016 Peruvian voters elected a centre-right technocrat, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, after the five-year presidency of the leftwing Ollanta Humala, whose time in office was marred by a corruption scandal and an uptick in antimining protests. And in August the Brazilian Congress impeached the president, Dilma Rousseff, of the left-wing Partido dos Trabalhadores (which has held the presidency since 2003) for contravening budget rules. She was replaced by her centre-right vice-president, Michel Temer, who has introduced more orthodox economic reforms. However, allegations of corruption continue to rock the Brazilian political establishment. Elsewhere, Bolivian voters rejected an initiative to put to a referendum a measure that would have granted indefinite re-election to the country’s president, Evo Morales (although it appears that the government may seek to overturn this), and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa said he would not stand for a third term (and the 2017 presidential election may be competitive for the first time in a decade). Nevertheless, the receding of the Pink Tide should not be interpreted as a regional ideological shift to the right but rather as an expression of public disenchantment with the region’s leaders, especially as the commodities supercycle comes to an end. In the absence of the easy money the era brought, voters are concerned with continued social advancement and have become more demanding of their public servants. Leaner times have tested voters’ patience with corruption, perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in the Lava Jato (Car Wash) scandal in Brazil, which investigates kickbacks between the political and the business establishment involving contracts and donations from the state oil company, Petróleo Brasileiro (Petrobras). In addition to claiming the head of Ms Rousseff (although she herself was not implicated in any malfeasance), it has implicated a number of leading politicians and members of the country’s business elite.
Going down: Venezuela and Nicaragua
However, the move away from populist left-wing governments in the region has caused such leaders to cling to power elsewhere, often at the expense of democratic norms. Nowhere was this more apparent in 2016 than in Venezuela and Nicaragua, both of which experienced a significant deterioration in their scores, which largely led to the decline in Latin America’s average score. Venezuela’s score fell from 5 to 4.68 and its ranking from 99th in 2015 to 107th in 2016, reflecting the government’s response to the opposition winning control of the National Assembly in December 2015 by slowly chipping away at its rights and powers. In January the government-dominated Supreme Court ruled all decisions by the Assembly null and void after the Assembly swore in three disputed lawmakers, and declared all bills passed by the Assembly unconstitutional. In October the government passed the 2017 budget through the Supreme Court rather than submit it to the National Assembly. This has in effect invalidated the power of the National Assembly and removed government accountability. In October the government-controlled electoral authority suspended an oppositions ponsored recall referendum for the president, Nicolás Maduro, before it was to go to a signature drive citing fraud in the original proposal. The military has also assumed a more prominent role in the country this year, including assuming responsibility for key parts of the economy. Nicaragua saw its score fall from 5.26 to 4.81 as a result of efforts by the president, Daniel Ortega, to win re-election for a third consecutive term. This was originally permitted by a 2014 ruling, whereby the government-dominated Supreme Court eliminated constitutional term limits. In 2016 Mr Ortega nominated his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his vice-president and used the government-controlled electoral authority to have the main opposition party, Partido Liberal Independiente, eliminated from participating in the election and also had the party ousted from Congress. This came after the party refused to accept the Supreme Court’s choice for its party leader, Pedro Reyes, arguing that Mr Reyes was a tool of Mr Ortega. Many smaller parties also refused to participate, saying the election was tilted in favour of Mr Ortega’s Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN). In addition, Mr Ortega did not allow any independent external observers to monitor the election. At the election voter turnout and support for his FSLN far exceeded pre-election polling, pointing to significant irregularities. The dynastic nature of the government (with a husband-and-wife team that is likely to remain in power for many years) and the total lack of accountability are behind Nicaragua’s downgrade, which was the largest in Latin America this year (and which caused the country to fall from 95th in 2015 to 104th in our latest ranking).
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA)
For the MENA region, 2016 was on the whole a year of political stagnation. Few countries made strides to foster democratic practices, and several slid further towards greater authoritarianism. Stagnation has taken hold in a host of Arab states, including Sudan, Syria and the Gulf monarchies. For example, the score for Sudan, ruled for nearly three decades by the regime of Omar al-Bashir, a so-called Islamist president, remained unchanged as the government continued to confront prodemocracy activists with brutal force. A similar trend prevailed in Syria, where international efforts to halt the civil war failed to improve security or to make the Assad regime more accountable to the public beyond a meaningless and uncompetitive parliamentary election. As a result, Syria continues to rank at the bottom of our index, second only to North Korea. Meanwhile, scores remained largely stable in countries with long-established autocratic polities, such as the Gulf Arab states, where absolute monarchies have maintained their hegemony over decision-making. Contrary to this pattern, however, Saudi Arabia and Oman, which are typically ranked low down in the Democracy Index, have improved in the global ranking. Nonetheless, even in these cases the change in ranking was driven by the setbacks in other regions (mainly Africa) rather than positive developments at home. Perhaps the most disappointing outcome of the year for MENA was in Tunisia, widely regarded as the sole democratic success of the Arab Spring, which slipped by 12 places to 69th in the global ranking. Tunisia’s transition to democracy over the past five years has coincided with a dismal economic performance, which continued in 2016 and has served to weaken the belief among young Tunisians that democracy and improved economic performance go hand in hand. Similarly, Algeria’s score deteriorated owing to less favourable perceptions among the population of the benefits of democratic governance. Pro-democracy movements in neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria have failed to provide a convincing alternative model to the authoritarian rule of the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Although its score was unchanged, Libya fell by two places to 155th globally as others improved and overtook the country, which is struggling to overcome civil infighting and remains divided between two administrations, neither of which enjoys much democratic legitimacy. Elsewhere, marginal improvements were seen in Egypt, Morocco and Iran. In Egypt, another focal point of the Arab Spring, mixed developments meant that the country’s standing in the Democracy Index has improved slightly in 2016, by one position to 133rd. The main positive development was the inauguration of an elected parliament in January 2016, although this was offset by the government’s continued crackdown on political opponents and civil society groups. Elsewhere in North Africa, Morocco’s ranking improved by two places to 105th (although it remains a “hybrid regime”) thanks to the October 2016 parliamentary election, which improved female representation in the legislature. Female candidates secured 81 of the 395 seats in the lower house (Chamber of Representatives), giving women more than 20% of the seats. Iran’s position has also improved in the global ranking, rising by two places to 154th. The change of government after the presidential
elections in 2013 and the more recent parliamentary election in early 2016 (which was followed by an internal vote for the speakership) showed that to some degree at least government transfer norms are relatively well established and accepted. The best performer in the region was Israel, climbing five places and rising to 29th place globally. Israel has worked to strengthen various public institutions—such as the offices of the attorney general and the accountant general—to ensure that the government remains accountable to the public between elections. However, the improvement in Israel’s ranking masks a huge disparity between the rights enjoyed by its Jewish citizens and the rapidly growing Muslim-Arab population. Overall, the higher score was not sufficient to propel Israel into the ranks of the world’s “full democracies”.
The performance of the two North American democracies has diverged in recent years. Canada and the US continue to perform reasonably well but lag behind many Western countries, particularly those of northern Europe. The US fell below the threshold for a “full democracy” in 2016 and is now considered a “flawed democracy”. This is the result of a small deterioration in its total score, from 8.05 in 2015 to 7.98 in 2016, and it has also slipped one place in the rankings, from 20th to 21st. The score for Canada improved in 2016, from 9.08 to 9.15, and it moved up the global ranking from seventh to joint sixth place (with Ireland).
The decline in the US democracy score reflects an erosion of confidence in government and public institutions over many years. According to the Pew Research Centre, public trust in government has been on a steady downward trend since shortly after the September 11th attacks in 2001 (see Box: A trust deficit is undermining democracy, page 14). Donald Trump won the November 2016 presidential election by exploiting this trust deficit and tapping into Americans’ anger and frustration with the functioning of their democratic institutions and representatives. He positioned himself as the insurgent candidate, a political outsider taking on a “rigged system” who would “drain the swamp” in Washington, DC. However, his candidacy was not the cause of the deterioration in trust but rather a consequence of it. Survey data from Pew and Gallup and other polling agencies reveal a protracted and persistent decline in levels of popular confidence in political institutions and parties. Pew surveys show that public trust in government remains close to historic lows, at 19%, and Gallup polls revealed that popular confidence in political leaders and the mass media dropped to its lowest level in polling history in 2016. There are several reasons for this decline in popular confidence in public institutions. Major political events over many decades have damaged confidence: the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, the Iraq wars, the financial crisis in 2008-09 and repeated federal government shutdowns. The Economist Intelligence Unit believes that income inequality has also been a key underlying factor. Income inequality is higher in the US than in other rich countries, and it has worsened since the financial crisis. Studies show that higher income inequality reduces trust in others and social capital—this is linked to a notion of fairness. An IMF study finds that income inequality at the bottom of the distribution in the US is particularly important—economically vulnerable and less educated people are more likely to distrust each other. It is no surprise that poorer and less educated voters were attracted by the candidacy of Mr Trump. If income inequality has exacerbated American trust in government and public institutions, continued economic progress should start to reverse this trend in the coming years. The unemployment rate has fallen below 5%, average hourly wage growth is at its highest level since the financial crisis, and income inequality should gradually narrow if the economic recovery continues. If these trends are maintained, the US could improve in our 2017 rankings.
Partisanship and deadlock
There are other long-standing reasons why the US scores comparatively poorly in the Democracy Index, including in other indices of the functioning of government. The ideological entrenchment of congressional representatives fosters deadlock. Bitter partisanship has developed, in part because many congressional districts have been redrawn in a way that gives one party a built-in advantage. As a result, members of Congress fear a challenge in their party primaries, which are controlled by the party base, and are consequently incentivised to move to the right (for Republicans) or to the left (for Democrats). The upshot is a stronger emphasis on ideological purity and less appetite for compromise, which reinforces a lack of confidence in Congress among voters. Nevertheless, respect for the constitution and democratic values are deeply entrenched as a result of centuries of democratic practice. For urgent and crucial decisions majorities can normally be obtained, but solutions to long-term problems often fall victim to deadlock. With a long history of democratic government, Canada scores highly in the electoral process category and for functioning of government. There is scope for improvement in the scores for political participation and to a lesser extent political culture. In contrast to its neighbour south of the border, Canadians’ trust and confidence in government improved in 2016. Canada scores extremely well in the category of civil liberties. Personal freedom is largely unconstrained by the state, and civil rights are guarded by an independent judiciary. Domestic print and electronic media are unfettered and competitive, access is unrestricted, and the market is not dominated by large, state-owned providers. Freedom of expression and religious and cultural tolerance are ingrained in the Canadian state and are particularly important, given its large French-speaking and native minorities. Tensions over federal-provincial relations eased following the victory of the federalist Parti Libéral in the election for the Quebec legislature in 2014. The defeat of the separatist Parti Québécois, formed to promote the independence of the largely French-speaking province, reduced concerns over the unity of Canada. The Liberals had promised that the federal election in 2015 would be the last one held under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system. An all-party committee of members of parliament delivered a report in December 2016; its main finding was the need to put any proposed change to a referendum. It suggested that this referendum offer FPTP and a form of proportional representation (PR) as the options, but did not specify what form of PR should be used. It is unlikely that there will be a change to the system in time for the 2019 election cycle, and any proposed change will have no impact on Canada’s score in the Democracy Index until it is implemented. The only category in which Canada scores comparatively poorly is political participation. This is a problem faced by many developed countries and reflects poor voter turnout, low membership of political parties and a general lack of political engagement. However, voter turnout increased in the October 2015 election, and Canada’s score in this category is not so bad in an international comparison.
Western Europe remains the top region in our 2016 Democracy Index, when measured by the number of full democracies, filling seven of the top ten positions and 15 of the top 20 positions. However, it has also registered the second-most significant decline in its regional average score, after eastern Europe, of all the regions since the launch of the Democracy Index rankings in 2006, with the score falling from 8.60 to 8.40 in 2016. The score declined again in 2016, from 8.42 in 2015. In 2016 more countries registered a decline in their overall score (9) than an improvement (5), and the rest stagnated (7). Western Europe still dominates the category of “full democracies”, with Norway, Iceland and Sweden taking the top three spots in the global ranking. The other two Scandinavian countries, Denmark (5th) and Finland (9th) are also highly placed. Five countries managed to improve their overall score in 2016: in order of rank from high to low, Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Cyprus, with only the score for Ireland improving significantly. Furthermore, no country moved up into the “full democracy” category in 2016, after France slipped down a category last year to a “flawed democracy”. Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Cyprus and Greece also fall under this category. Turkey is the only “hybrid regime”, and its score fell further in 2016, causing it to fall to 97th place in the global ranking, sandwiched between Madagascar and the Kyrgyz Republic. This was largely due to a crackdown on perceived anti-government forces launched by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after a failed coup in July. Democratic institutions remain under pressure throughout much of western Europe, as trust in institutions is still suffering from the after-effects of the global financial crisis and the euro zone crisis, which has still not been conclusively resolved. Compounding public cynicism and disaffection with the political elites’ response to the economic crisis was the bumbling European response to the inflow of more than 1m migrants in 2015 and early 2016. Attempts by European officials to impose a quota system, according to which all EU member states would take a share of migrants, met at best with grudging acceptance and at worst with outright opposition, further straining relations between member states. A series of terrorist attacks in France and Germany in 2015-16 has also tested the capacities of the authorities. Besides encouraging support for the Front national in France and populist right-wing parties throughout the region, such as the PVV in the Netherlands and the Sweden Democrats, these developments contributed to the breakthrough of the far-right populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a party further to the right than the centre-right Christian Social Union (CSU), which would previously have been unthinkable in Germany. The vote to leave the EU in June 2016 improved the UK’s score thanks to increased political participation and popular engagement. It was a shock for the region and was quickly followed by calls throughout the EU from populist forces for their own referendums and for a rethink of the European integration process. However, since then it has become clear that electorates in most other EU states are less enthusiastic about cutting themselves loose from the European project than the British electorate. Nevertheless, deep frustrations remain with what are often seen as undemocratic EU institutions and, at the very least, it is clear that there is no political appetite for a deeper political union. The year 2017 will be a test case for many of these trends, with elections coming up in the Netherlands, France and Germany. In all three contests anti-immigration, anti-Islam and Eurosceptic parties will play a large role. Although we do not expect any of these to win or gain power, they will shift the political debate and possibly draw in voters who had previously switched off from the political process.
Reflecting the scant democratic progress made in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in recent years, the region’s average score in the Democracy Index has remained relatively flat since 2011 (dipping slightly to 4.37 in 2016 from 4.38 in 2015). Political participation and political culture have improved over the past five years (albeit with a few notable exceptions), but this has been offset by deteriorating scores for civil liberties and the functioning of government. Moreover, while elections have become commonplace across much of the region, the regional score for electoral processes has remained persistently low, reflecting a lack of genuine pluralism in most countries. Supporting the average score, democratic gains were made in a handful of countries in 2016. In Côte d’Ivoire (up ten places in the global ranking) progress was marked by the re-entry of the main opposition party into electoral politics for the first time since the country’s civil war in 2010-11, and in Cape Verde (up nine places), high turnout in the country’s credible and competitive elections underscored popular trust in democratic institutions. Other climbers include Liberia, where the post Ebola recovery led to an improvement in government effectiveness, and Tanzania, whose reform minded president has strengthened citizens’ trust in the government. The democratic success stories on the continent were, however, outweighed by declining scores elsewhere. The average score for civil liberties recorded the most significant decline, with media freedom undermined in several countries by incumbent regimes’ efforts to unfairly influence nominally democratic processes. In some instances, the crackdown on the media in 2016 was a direct consequence of political pressure for reform, and viewpoints that opposed the government were overtly censored. Internet penetration is gradually increasing in SSA, which could strengthen political engagement, but here too access is often restricted. Several countries introduced far reaching laws in 2016 to police the Internet, and whereas social media have provided a key platform for democratic movements elsewhere in the world, it is growing increasingly common in SSA for social media to be shut down arbitrarily (and often during election periods). Despite the pressures on civil liberties, the overall score for political participation held up, suggesting that citizens’ engagement in democracy comes in spite of, not because of, the political elite. However, the Sub-Saharan countries which experienced the fastest slides down the global ranking in 2016—Ethiopia and Mozambique, both down six places––saw participation in politics retreat. In both instances, this was rooted in crisis. Amid frustrations over governments’ failure to manage the political, security and economic crises afflicting their countries, the absence of accountable institutions and the security forces’ heavy-handed response to mass protests left citizens with limited avenues through which to push for change. The consequence was a drop in political engagement. Overall, SSA has fewer full or flawed democracies than it did a year ago, with Zambia falling into the category of “hybrid regime” (formerly “flawed democracy”) after the 2016 general election was marred by systematic bias in the media, a lack of transparency and restrictions on the freedom of assembly. Most countries in SSA are still considered “authoritarian regimes”––a fact that has remained unchanged since the Democracy Index was launched in 2006. While there will probably be more shoots of democratic progress in 2017, much of the region will continue to be characterised as deeply entrenched one-party states that go through the motions of holding elections without providing the freedoms necessary to promote genuine democracy.
Defining and measuring democracy
There is no consensus on how to measure democracy. Definitions of democracy are contested, and there is a lively debate on the subject.
The issue is not only of academic interest. For example, although democracy promotion is high on the list of US foreign-policy priorities, there is no consensus within the US government as to what constitutes a democracy.
As one observer put it: “The world’s only superpower is rhetorically and militarily promoting a political system that remains undefined—and it is staking its credibility and treasure on that pursuit,” (Horowitz, 2006, p. 114). Although the terms “freedom” and “democracy” are often used interchangeably, the two are not synonymous. Democracy can be seen as a set of practices and principles that institutionalise, and thereby, ultimately, protect freedom. Even if a consensus on precise definitions has proved elusive, most observers today would agree that, at a minimum, the fundamental features of a democracy include government based on majority rule and the consent of the governed; the existence of free and fair elections; the protection of minority rights; and respect for basic human rights.
Democracy presupposes equality before the law, due process and political pluralism. A question arises as to whether reference to these basic features is sufficient for a satisfactory concept of democracy. As discussed below, there is a question as to how far the definition may need to be widened. Some insist that democracy is, necessarily, a dichotomous concept: a state is either democratic or not. But most measures now appear to adhere to a continuous concept, with the possibility of varying degrees of democracy. At present, the best-known measure is produced by the US-based Freedom House organisation. The average of its indexes, on a 1 to 7 scale, of political freedom (based on 10 indicators) and of civil liberties (based on 15 indicators) is often taken to be a measure of democracy. The Freedom House measure is available for all countries, and stretches back to the early 1970s. It has been used heavily in empirical investigations of the relationship between democracy and various economic and social variables. The so-called Polity Project provides, for a smaller number of countries, measures of democracy and regime types, based on rather minimalist definitions, stretching back to the 19th century. These have also been used in empirical work. Freedom House also measures a narrower concept, that of “electoral democracy”. Democracies in this minimal sense share at least one common, essential characteristic. Positions of political power are filled through regular, free and fair elections between competing parties, and it is possible for an incumbent government to be turned out of office through elections. Freedom House’s criteria for an electoral democracy include: 1) A competitive, multi-party political system. 2) Universal adult suffrage. 3) Regularly contested elections conducted on the basis of secret ballots, reasonable ballot security and the absence of massive voter fraud.