For the first time, the United States has been added to an annual list of “backsliding” democracies, according to the International IDEA think-tank, citing a “visible deterioration” that began in 2019. According to the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, more than one in every four people live in a deteriorating democracy, a proportion that rises to more than two in every three when authoritarian or “hybrid” regimes are included.
“We coded the United States as backsliding for the first time this year, but our data suggest that the backsliding episode began at least in 2019,” it said in its “Global State of Democracy 2021” report.
“The United States is a high-performing democracy that even improved in indicators of impartial administration in 2020. However, the erosion of civil liberties and checks on government indicate that the fundamentals of democracy are in serious jeopardy “Alexander Hudson, a report co-author.
“A historic turning point occurred in 2020-21 when former President Donald Trump called into question the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States,” according to the report.
In addition, Hudson stated that the police killing of George Floyd resulted in a “decrease in the quality of freedom of association and assembly during the summer of protests in 2020.” International IDEA bases its assessments on 50 years of democratic indicators in approximately 160 countries, categorizing them as democracies (including “backsliding”), “hybrid” governments, and authoritarian regimes.
“One of the most concerning developments is the visible deterioration of democracy in the United States, as seen in the increasing tendency to contest credible election results, efforts to suppress participation (in elections), and the runaway polarization,” said International IDEA secretary-general Kevin Casas-Zamora. Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a group of civic leaders in Kenya that the world was experiencing “democratic recession,” citing challenges in the United States as evidence of “just how fragile our democracy can be.”
“This is a critical time,” Blinken told a group of human rights, labor, and anti-corruption activists gathered in a Nairobi hotel. “We’ve seen what some have called a ‘democratic recession’ around the world over the last decade or so.”
Combating misinformation, political violence, voter intimidation, and corruption, he said, was critical to reversing the erosion of democratic principles. Casas-Zamora warned of a global ripple effect from the unprecedented challenges to the democratic process in the United States, stating that “the violent contestation of the 2020 election without any evidence of fraud has been replicated, in different ways, in places as diverse as Myanmar, Peru, and Israel.”
Backsliding democracies have more than doubled in the last decade, accounting for a quarter of the world’s population. Along with “established democracies” like the United States, the list includes EU member states Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia.
Ukraine and North Macedonia, which were on the list last year, were removed this year after their situations improved. Mali and Serbia were dropped from the list because they are no longer considered democracies.
While Myanmar transitioned from a democracy to an authoritarian regime, Afghanistan and Mali transitioned from hybrid governments to this category.
In 2020, countries on the verge of authoritarianism will outnumber those on the verge of democratization for the fifth year in a row.
This trend is expected to continue in 2021, according to International IDEA.
According to the group’s preliminary assessment, the world will have 98 democracies in 2021, the lowest number in many years, as well as 20 “hybrid” governments including Russia, Morocco and Turkey, and 47 authoritarian regimes including China, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Iran.
When backsliding democracies are added to hybrid and authoritarian states, “we are talking about 70 percent of the world’s population,” Casas-Zamora told reporters.
“That tells you that something fundamentally serious is going on with the quality of democracy,” he added.
According to the report, the trend toward democratic erosion has “become more acute and concerning” since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some countries, most notably Hungary, India, the Philippines, and the United States, have (imposed) measures that amount to democratic violations — that is, measures that were disproportionate, illegal, indefinite, or unrelated to the nature of the emergency,” according to the report.
“The pandemic has certainly accelerated and magnified some of the negative trends, particularly in places where democracy and the rule of law were ailing before the pandemic,” Casas-Zamora said.