According to a new report by Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), autocratization is on the rise worldwide, alongside anti-autocratic resistance.
V-Dem’s Democracy Report 2020, which compiled 123,118 datasets with the help of three thousand country experts, notes an unprecedented global decline in democratic traits. For the first time since 2001, democracies no longer constitute the majority of world countries; autocracies now host 54 percent of the global population. The world is now left with just 87 electoral and liberal democracies.
Meanwhile, 35 percent of the world’s population lives in autocratizing nations. As this “third wave of autocratization” accelerates and deepens, major countries are more openly and harshly restricting critical democratic freedoms like the freedom of expression and the press, attacking civil society, and–notably–attacking elections.
V-Dem noted that a new trend in the 2020 report was a deteriorating quality of elections, arguing that “After years of undercutting countervailing forces, rulers seem now to feel secure enough to attack the very core of democracy: free and fair elections.”
The report highlighted one country in particular for its “substantial” and “exceptional” democratic decline: the United States. “Only one country in [the western and North American] region has registered a substantial decline in liberal democracy – the United States of America,” wrote V-Dem.
While America’s Liberal Democracy Index (LDI), a tool political scientists use to measure democracy, declined .07 points in during the Obama Administration, the LDI has declined .11 points under the Trump Administration. The United States now sits at the bottom of the top 20% of countries, ranking significantly lower than some of its closest allies and neighbors. Given the United States’ massive size and political, economic, military influence, V-Dem warns that “The possible ripple effects of the USA’s decline are huge.”
Alongside this unprecedented rise in autocratization has been an “unprecedented degree of mobilization for democracy,” a “sign of hope” according to V-Dem. The number of countries with substantial pro-democracy mass protests nearly doubled since 2009, rising from 27 percent to 44 percent. From Bolivia to Hong Kong to Sudan, citizens are fighting against authoritarian impulses and for their democratic rights.
“While pro-autocracy rulers attempt to curtail the space for civil society,” wrote V-Dem, “millions of citizens have demonstrated their commitment to democracy.”