IS DEMOCRACY IN RETREAT GLOBALLY? I – MEASUREMENT

Charles Simkins | Jun 02, 2016
This is the first Brief in a three part series of Briefs which deal with democracy. This Brief looks at indicators of democracy.

The mood about democracy globally is sombre now in comparison with the exuberance of twenty or twenty-five years ago at the height of the ‘third wave’ of democratization[1].

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s  (EIU) Democracy Index 2015 is subtitled Democracy in an Age of Anxiety.  Freedom House’s (FH) Freedom in the World Report 2016 is subtitled Anxious Dictators, Wavering Democracies: Global Freedom under Pressure.  And the Centre for Systemic Peace’s (CSP) Global Report 2014, based on Polity IV indicators, emphasizes that the world is at a critical juncture in global armed conflict and governance trends.
 
Each of these sources contain indicators of the state of democracy, or its absence, in countries round the world.  This brief will summarize what these indicators show, while the next one will deal with their interpretation.  The final brief will deal with aspects of the authoritarian push-back against the extension of democracy.  
 
The EIU Index covers 167 countries and divides them into four categories:  full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes.  The Index is based on five equally weighted categories: electoral processes and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture.  Flawed democracies have free and fair elections, but experience significant weaknesses in governance, political culture and political participation.  In hybrid regimes, elections have substantial irregularities, widespread corruption, weak rule of law and a judiciary which is not independent and media under pressure.  Many authoritarian regimes are outright dictatorships while others maintain some formal features of democracy devoid of substance.  In 2015, the countries were distributed as follows:

Full democracies                      20
Flawed democracies                 59
Hybrid regimes                         37
Authoritarian regimes                51

 

 
In regional terms, the scores in 2015 compared with 2006 were (10=best, 0=worst):

 

                                                                              2006                       2015

 

North America                                                           8.64                        8.56

Latin America                                                            6.37                        6.37

Western Europe                                                         8.60                        8.42

Eastern Europe and CIS[2]                                         5.76                        5.55

Asia                                                                         5.44                        5.74

North Africa and Middle East[3]                                   3.53                        3.58

Sub-Saharan Africa                                                    4.24                        4.38       

World                                                                       5.62                        5.55

 

The most notable improvement has been in Asia, followed by sub-Saharan Africa.  The greatest decline has been in Eastern Europe and CIS, followed by Western Europe.  There has been a small decline in the world as a whole.  The picture which emerges from the EIU is little change in the world as a whole, but marked regional variation. 
 
Freedom House rates political rights and civil liberties on a scale of 1 to 7  (1=best, 7=worst) and then categorises countries as free if they have a combined score of five or less, partly free if they have a score between six and ten and not free if they have a score of eleven and above.  The position in 2016 compared with 2006 is as follows:
 
   

2006

 

2016

   

Free

Partly

Not free

 

Free

Partly

Not free

     

free

     

free

 
                 

Americas

 

24

9

2

 

23

11

1

Asia

 

16

12

11

 

16

14

9

North Africa and Middle East

 

1

6

11

 

2

3

13

Sub-Saharan Africa

 

11

23

14

 

9

20

20

Europe and Asia

 

37

8

7

 

36

11

7

                 

World

 

89

58

45

 

86

59

50


Like the EIU, FH finds a slight deterioration globally over the last decade, with improvement in Asia and North Africa and the Middle East.  
 
FH also calculates an aggregate score based on 25 indicators.  Using this score, it notes that deteriorations have outnumbered improvements in each of the last ten years,  
 
The CSP divides countries into three categories:
Democracies
Anocracies
Autocracies
 
 
The Polity IV indices are based on the general qualities of political institutions and processes, including executive recruitment, constraints on executive action, and political competition.  The indices are aggregated into a single index which ranges from -10 (fully institutionalized autocracy) to 10 (fully institutionalised democracy).  Countries scoring less than -5 are regarded as autocracies, those with scores between -5 and +5 are regarded as anocracies and countries scoring more than 5 are democracies.  
 
Anocracies are regarded as a middling category rather than a distinct form of governance. They are countries whose governments are neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic but, rather, combine an often incoherent mix of democratic and autocratic traits and practices.  They reflect inherent qualities of instability or ineffectiveness.
 
The CSP graphs the numbers of democracies, anocracies and autocracies since 1945.  It shows that the second wave of democratization (between 1945 and 1960) was modest in relation to third wave (from the late 1980s to 2005).  It shows autocracies in steady decline since the mid-1970s, a recent stabilisation of the number of democracies and a recent rise in anocracies.  
 
Conclusion
 
Globally, there has been, at worst, a small decline in democracy since 2005, and that the large gains from the third wave, while not advancing in the last ten years, have mostly been preserved.  Regionally, Eurasia, the Middle East and North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa are most resistant to democracy, though there have been some gains in the latter two regions.
 
The next brief will consider issues of interpretation of these findings.
 

Charles Simkins
Senior Researcher
charles@hsf.org.za
 


NOTES
[1] The first wave was the emergence of democracy from the late 18th century to 1914.  The second wave was in the wake of the Second World War
[2] The Commonwealth of Independent States, centred on Russia

[3] Substantial improvements have taken place in Algeria, Israel, Kuwait, Morocco and Tunisia