Study prepared by International IDEA
In November the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) based in Stockholm published the first edition of its new flagship report titled “The Global State of Democracy”. The study prepared by the intergovernmental organization that is currently headed by former Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme aims to explore “the challenges and risks to democracy as well as the enabling conditions for its resilience.”
The report supplies in-depth analysis on global and regional democracy trends between 1975 and 2015. It features five newly developed Global State of Democracy (GSoD) indices which are used to analyze countries and regions. The indices provide an assessment of representative government, fundamental rights, checks on government, impartial administration, and participatory engagement. As the report points out, the approach is based on a “broad and inclusive definition of democracy” which is underpinned by the principles of popular control and political equality.
Positive long-term trend but setbacks in recent years
Contrary to popular claims that democracy is in a worldwide decline, the report presents a positive view on the whole as one of its authors emphasized in the Washington Post. According to the study, competitive elections determined governments in 132 countries or 68% of all nations in 2016, up from 30% in 1975 (see figure 1.1 from the report). The percentage of the world’s population that lives in these democracies is now at a record high of 62.2%. In 1975 the figure was a bit under 40%. The study suggests that overall there’s been an increasing quality of elections, with lower levels of fraud, manipulation and irregularities.
However, while today overall more citizens can exercise political freedoms than in the past, there are big differences across countries. Threats to democracy from those in power and the backsliding of democratic systems is discussed in the report with Hungary, Poland, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Zimbabwe as recent case examples. Among the setbacks identified in the study is the decline of media integrity in many countries since 2012. From 1970 to 1990 there was a steady improvement across the globe in this area. In addition, voting turnout has risen globally across the studied period but there have been downward shifts in many European democracies and the United States. Of note are Germany, the UK, and France where the decline was particularly strong.
Building resilient democratic institutions
International IDEA’s “Global State of Democracy” is not just a report on democratic trends. It is also a guide that explores some of the most important challenges democracies are faced with and offers possible solutions. Individual chapters in the first edition deal with the changing nature of political parties and representation, the influence of money and corruption, the problem of inequality, migration, social polarization, multiculturalism and citizenship as well as peacebuilding in conflict-affected states.
GSoD indices are applied to present comparable statistics and to support the narrative. The report is matched with an online presentation of the data that allows visitors to create their own graphics based on individual criteria.
Image: From the cover of the GSoD report