Program Areas

Program Areas

Democracy declined in 42 countries in 2023, new V-Dem report says

Pro-Democracy protesters in Bangkok, Thailand, on February 10, 2021. Image: Adirach Toumlamoon / Licensed for use on this website.

The V-Dem Institute based in Gothenburg in Sweden has presented its annual report on the state of global democracy for the 8th consecutive year, gathering information from 202 countries and measuring over 600 different attributes of democracy. The report has become one of the most prominent sources in the state of democracy around the world. 

The V-Dem Democracy Report 2024, titled “Democracy Winning and Losing at the Ballot”, highlights the continuity of an autocratization trend in the world, noted by previous reports from V-Dem and other organizations such as Freedom House, the Economist Intelligence Unit or International IDEA.  

According to V-Dem, the share of the world’s population living in autocratizing countries since 2009 has exceeded the proportion living in democratizing countries, with 71% of the world’s population or 5.7 billion people currently living in autocracies. This constitutes a 48% increase compared to ten years ago.

According to the report, autocratization in 2023 was ongoing in 42 countries, home to 35% of the world’s population, while democratization was taking place in 18 countries, hosting only 5% of the world’s population.

Sorted by the regime types identified by V-Dem, in 2023, 32 countries in the world were considered liberal democracies, 59 electoral democracies, 55 electoral autocracies and 33 closed autocracies. Compared to 2022, there was little change in this regard except that the number of electoral democracies stood at 58 and that of electoral autocracies at 56.

The autocratization wave in numbers. Source: V-Dem Democracy Report 2024, p. 7.

Within this global trend, the level of democracy was experiencing a particular decline in Eastern Europe and Asia. The level of democracy enjoyed by the average person in Eastern Europe has fallen to similar levels as 1990, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, V-Dem finds. Notable examples include Russia and Belarus, which stand out as examples of autocratic consolidation, while Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, and Romania lead the autocratization trend in the region. In Asia, the level of democracy is steeply declining, with the levels of liberal democracy reverting back to those of 1975, led by the remarkable and relevant case of democratic deterioration in India.

Conversely, the case of Latin-America stands out, as the level of democracy enjoyed by the average person in this region increased in the past year. The major contribution towards this change were recent democratic improvements in Brazil in addition to such in smaller countries like Bolivia or Honduras. However, it is important to note that the region stands out because a large country is democratizing while more smaller countries are autocratizing.

Regarding other regions in the world, Sub-Saharan Africa democracy levels are equivalent to those around the year 2000. In East Asia and the Pacific, The Middle East and North Africa, and Western Europe and North America, the levels of democracy remain stable for the last two years, although there are declines on the population-weighted measures over the past decade.

Regional shares of population by regime type, 2023. Source: V-Dem Democracy Report 2024, p. 7.

Freedom of expression and elections

From all the components of democracy identified and analyzed by V-Dem, all of them are getting worse in more countries than they are improving, with freedom of expression and elections being the most affected ones. Freedom of expression “remains the worst affected component of democracy and is worsening in 35 countries in 2023”, V-Dem reports, which includes media freedom, freedom of citizens to discuss political issues and freedom of academic and cultural expression. This component is the most targeted by aspiring autocrats, with the indicator of government censorship of the media as the number one declining indicator in 2023. Among the worst governments offenders in this category we can find El Salvador, India and Mauritius.

Clean elections, a core institution of democracy which used to be relatively unaffected, appears now in the V-Dem report as the second worst affected component “deteriorating in 23 countries and improving in twelve”. The indicator of free and fair elections is suffering the biggest decline within this component, deteriorating in 35 countries in 2023, in comparison with 30 in 2022 and 16 in 2019.  Bangladesh, Egypt, and Venezuela are prominent examples where the most recent elections were significantly less free and fair.

What Comes Next?

The V-Dem report dedicates a chapter to the challenges and hopes for democracy in 2024. Five countries are identified as “near misses of autocratization,” indicating signs of democratic deterioration that could lead to an autocratization process in the near furture if the current trajectory continues. This includes Georgia, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, and Gabon. On the bright side, 9 countries are “near misses of democratization”, which means that they can convert into democratizing countries in the course of this year. Examples of such countries include Argentina, Nepal, Kenya and Malaysia.

2024 represents a pivotal point for democracy, with approximately 60 countries holding national elections this year. However, the outlook is not promising, as out of these 60 countries, “31 are worsening on their democracy levels, while only 3 are improving”. These elections are critical events as they can “trigger democratization, enable autocratization, or aid stabilization of autocratic regimes”. The outcomes and the way these elections are conducted will undoubtedly shape the trajectory of democracy in the years to come.

Rodrigo Lima
Rodrigo Lima is a MSc student in International Development Studies at Wageningen University and an intern at Democracy Without Borders