EIU 2016

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Democracy Index 2016

A report by The Economist Intelligence Unit | Excertos | Full download = Democracy Index 2016 EIU


EIU 2016 3

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2016

Revenge of the “deplorables”

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories. This covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s states (microstates are excluded). The Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Based on their scores on a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then itself classified as one of four types of regime: “full democracy”; “flawed democracy”; “hybrid regime”; and “authoritarian regime”.

This is the ninth edition of the Democracy Index. It records how global democracy fared in 2016. The title of this year’s report refers to the popular revolt in 2016 against political elites who are perceived by many to be out of touch and failing to represent the interests of ordinary people (“political elites” refers primarily to governments, legislatures, state institutions and political parties, though it also encompasses the media, expert bodies and international organisations). It was a revolt that was foretold in recent editions of the Democracy Index, which have focused on the growing disconnect between political elites and the people that is particularly evident in the world’s most mature democracies. The UK’s vote in June 2016 to leave the EU (Brexit) and the election of Donald Trump as US president in November 2016 sent shock waves around the globe. Both were an expression of deep popular dissatisfaction with the status quo and of a hankering for change.

A triumph of democracy or a threat to it? This was the question posed by the dramatic political events of 2016. The answer from many was unequivocally negative. The Brexit vote and the election of Mr Trump were for many liberals nothing more than outbursts of primal emotions and visceral expressions of narrow-minded nationalism. Countless commentaries following the shock results blamed popular ignorance and xenophobia for the Brexit and Trump results and implied that those who voted for these outcomes were at best political illiterates who had been duped by “post-truth politics” or, at worst, bigots and xenophobes in thrall to demagogues.

The intensity of the reaction to the Brexit and Trump victories is commensurate with the magnitude of the shock to the political system that they represent and the strength of feeling on both sides of the political divide. A strong attachment to the post-war, liberal, democratic order makes it difficult for those on the losing side to come to terms with what happened in 2016. However, such a powerful rebuke to the political class demands a wide-ranging investigation of its causes. In recent decades, political elites have become unused to having their worldview challenged and have largely assumed that the values represented by the liberal democratic consensus are shared by the vast majority of the electorate. The events of 2016 have proven that this is definitely not the case in the UK or the US and the populist advance elsewhere suggests that it is probably not true for many other democracies in Europe.

Shock at the results and fear of the changes that they denote may help to explain the reluctance of some opponents of Brexit and Trump to examine fully why they lost the political argument. Instead of seeking to understand the causes of the popular backlash against the political establishment, some have instead sought to delegitimise the Brexit and Trump outcomes by disparaging the values of those who supported them. Even when they acknowledge that Brexit and Trump supporters had legitimate reasons to be unhappy with the status quo, some commentators suggest that their views and/or their choices are illegitimate. This negative interpretation of the seminal political events of 2016 fails to see anything encouraging in the increased political engagement and participation of ordinary people.

The two votes captured the contradictions besetting contemporary democracy. They were symptomatic of the problems of 21st-century representative democracy and, at the same time, of the positive potential for overcoming them by increasing popular political participation. Insofar as they engaged and mobilised normally quiescent or absentee voters—and the UK referendum campaign was especially successful in this regard—the votes were a vindication of democracy. In their different ways, both events expressed a desire, often inchoate, for more democracy, or at least something better than what has been on offer in recent decades. The same can be said to a great degree of the increasing support in Europe for populist or insurgent political parties which are challenging the mainstream parties that have ruled since 1945. Of course, one referendum campaign or one populist victory at the polls does not change anything in and of itself. Popular engagement and participation need to be sustained to make a substantive difference to the quality of democracy. Populist victories may raise expectations of change that end up being dashed (the recent experience of Greece is a case in point), demoralising those who voted for it and encouraging more popular cynicism with the functioning of democracy.

The predominant response among political elites to the events of 2016 has been to rue the popular backlash against the democratic order and to interpret it as a threat to the future of liberal democracy. Some have even questioned whether ordinary people should be trusted to make decisions about important matters such as the UK’s membership of the EU. Yet the popular backlash against the established order can also be seen as a consequence, not a cause, of the failings of contemporary democracy. We explore the various factors that led to the 2016 backlash in the section entitled The roots of the contemporary crisis of democracy.

2016: a year of global democratic recession and, for the US, demotion

In the 2016 Democracy Index the average global score fell to 5.52 from 5.55 in 2015 (on a scale of 0 to 10). Some 72 countries experienced a decline in their total score compared with 2015, almost twice as many as the countries which recorded an improvement (38). The other 57 countries stagnated, with their scores remaining unchanged compared with 2015. In the 2016 Democracy Index five regions, compared with three in 2015, experienced a regression—eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and western Europe— as signified by a decline in their regional average score. Eastern Europe recorded by far the biggest decline (from 5.55 to 5.43). Not a single region recorded an improvement in its average score in 2016. Two regions—Asia & Australasia and North America—stagnated in 2016.

Almost one-half (49.3%) of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only 4.5% reside in a “full democracy”, down from 8.9% in 2015 as a result of the US being demoted from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” (see Table 1, Democracy Index 2016 by regime type). Around 2.6bn people, more than one-third of the world’s population, live under authoritarian rule, with a large share being, of course, in China.

According to the Democracy Index, 76 of the 167 countries covered by the model, or 45.5% of all countries, can be considered to be democracies. However, the number of “full democracies” has declined from 20 in 2015 to 19 in in this year’s Democracy Index. The US, a standard-bearer of democracy for the world, has become a “flawed democracy”, as popular confidence in the functioning of public institutions has declined. The score for the US fell to 7.98 from 8.05 in 2015, causing the world’s leading economic superpower to slip below the 8.00 threshold for a “full democracy”. Of the remaining 91 countries in our index, 51 are “authoritarian” and 40 (up from 37 in 2015) are considered to be “hybrid regimes”.

Table 1

Democracy Index 2016, by regime type

No. of countries % of countries % of world population
Full democracies 19 11.4 4.5
Flawed democracies 57 34.1 44.8
Hybrid regimes 40 24.0 18.0
Authoritarian regimes 51 30.5 32.7

Note. “World” population refers to the total population of the 167 countries covered by the Index. Since this excludes only micro states, this is nearly equal to the entire estimated world population. Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Popular trust in government, elected representatives and political parties has fallen to extremely low levels in the US (See Box: A trust deficit is undermining democracy, page 14). This has been a long-term trend and one that preceded the election of Mr Trump as US president in November 2016. By tapping a deep strain of political disaffection with the functioning of democracy, Mr Trump became a beneficiary of the low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives and political parties, but he was not responsible for a problem that has had a long gestation. The US has been teetering on the brink of becoming a “flawed democracy” for several years, and even if there had been no presidential election in 2016, its score would have slipped below 8.00.

A similar trend of declining popular confidence in political elites and institutions has been evident in Europe over the past decade and helps to explain the outcome of the UK Brexit referendum in June 2016 as well as the growing ascendancy of populist movements across Europe. Popular confidence in government and political parties is a vital component of the concept of democracy embodied by the Democracy Index model. Growing popular disaffection with the key institutions of representative democracy has been a factor in the democratic regression of recent years and in the rise of insurgent, populist, anti-mainstream parties and politicians in Europe and North America.

Democracy Index 2016 highlights

A trust deficit causes the US to become a “flawed democracy”

Trust in political institutions is an essential component of well-functioning democracies. Yet surveys by Pew, Gallup and other polling agencies have confirmed that public confidence in government has slumped to historic lows in the US. This has had a corrosive effect on the quality of democracy in the US, as reflected in the decline in the US score in the Democracy Index. The US president, Donald Trump, is not to blame for this decline in trust, which predated his election, but he was the beneficiary of it. Popular confidence in political institutions and parties continues to decline in many other developed countries, too.

Brexit referendum leads to increased political participation in the UK

A 21st-century record turnout of 72.2% in the June 2016 Brexit referendum, compared with average turnouts of 63% in the four general elections since 2001, revealed a rise in popular engagement and participation that boosted the UK’s score in 2016 to 8.36 from 8.31 in 2015. The UK is in 16th place in the global ranking. The long-term trend of declining political participation and growing cynicism about politics in the UK seemed to have been reversed. There has also been a significant increase in membership of political parties over the past year.


Table 2

Democracy Index 2016
Rank Overall score Electoral process and pluralism Functioning of government Political participation Political culture Civil liberties
Full democracies
Norway 1 9.93 10.00 9.64 10.00 10.00 10.00
Iceland 2 9.50 10.00 8.93 8.89 10.00 9.71
Sweden 3 9.39 9.58 9.64 8.33 10.00 9.41
New Zealand 4 9.26 10.00 9.29 8.89 8.13 10.00
Denmark 5 9.20 9.58 9.29 8.33 9.38 9.41
Canada =6 9.15 9.58 9.64 7.78 8.75 10.00
Ireland =6 9.15 9.58 7.86 8.33 10.00 10.00
Switzerland 8 9.09 9.58 9.29 7.78 9.38 9.41
Finland 9 9.03 10.00 8.93 7.78 8.75 9.71
Australia 10 9.01 9.58 8.93 7.78 8.75 10.00
Luxembourg 11 8.81 10.00 8.93 6.67 8.75 9.71
Netherlands 12 8.80 9.58 8.57 8.33 8.13 9.41
Germany 13 8.63 9.58 8.57 7.78 7.50 9.71
Austria 14 8.41 9.58 7.86 8.33 6.88 9.41
Malta 15 8.39 9.17 8.21 6.11 8.75 9.71
United Kingdom 16 8.36 9.58 7.14 7.22 8.75 9.12
Spain 17 8.30 9.58 7.14 7.22 8.13 9.41
Mauritius 18 8.28 9.17 8.21 5.56 8.75 9.71
Uruguay 19 8.17 10.00 8.93 4.44 7.50 10.00
Flawed democracies
Japan 20 7.99 8.75 8.21 6.67 7.50 8.82
United States of America =21 7.98 9.17 7.14 7.22 8.13 8.24
Italy =21 7.98 9.58 6.43 7.22 8.13 8.53
Cabo Verde 23 7.94 9.17 7.86 6.67 6.88 9.12
France =24 7.92 9.58 7.14 7.78 6.25 8.82
South Korea =24 7.92 9.17 7.50 7.22 7.50 8.24
Costa Rica 26 7.88 9.58 7.14 6.11 6.88 9.71
Botswana 27 7.87 9.17 7.14 6.11 7.50 9.41
Portugal 28 7.86 9.58 6.79 6.67 6.88 9.41
Israel =29 7.85 9.17 7.50 8.89 7.50 6.18
Estonia =29 7.85 9.58 7.86 6.11 6.88 8.82
Czech Republic 31 7.82 9.58 7.14 6.67 6.88 8.82
India 32 7.81 9.58 7.50 7.22 5.63 9.12
Taiwan 33 7.79 9.58 8.21 6.11 5.63 9.41
Chile 34 7.78 9.58 8.57 4.44 6.88 9.41
Belgium 35 7.77 9.58 8.57 5.00 6.88 8.82
Cyprus 36 7.65 9.17 6.43 6.67 6.88 9.12
Slovenia 37 7.51 9.58 7.14 6.67 5.63 8.53
Lithuania 38 7.47 9.58 5.71 6.11 6.25 9.71
South Africa 39 7.41 7.92 7.86 8.33 5.00 7.94
Jamaica 40 7.39 9.17 6.79 5.00 6.88 9.12
Latvia 41 7.31 9.58 5.71 5.56 6.88 8.82
Slovakia 42 7.29 9.58 7.14 5.56 5.63 8.53
Timor-Leste 43 7.24 8.67 7.14 5.56 6.88 7.94
Greece 44 7.23 9.58 5.36 6.11 6.25 8.82
Panama 45 7.13 9.58 6.43 6.11 5.00 8.53
Trinidad and Tobago 46 7.10 9.58 7.14 5.56 5.00 8.24
Bulgaria 47 7.01 9.17 6.07 7.22 4.38 8.24
Indonesia 48 6.97 7.75 7.14 6.67 6.25 7.06
Argentina 49 6.96 9.17 5.00 6.11 6.88 7.65
Philippines 50 6.94 9.17 5.71 7.22 4.38 8.24
Brazil 51 6.90 9.58 6.79 5.56 3.75 8.82
Poland 52 6.83 9.17 5.71 6.67 4.38 8.24
Suriname 53 6.77 9.17 6.43 5.00 5.00 8.24
Croatia =54 6.75 9.17 6.07 5.56 5.00 7.94
Ghana =54 6.75 8.33 5.71 6.11 6.25 7.35
Hungary 56 6.72 9.17 6.07 4.44 6.88 7.06
Dominican Republic =57 6.67 8.75 5.71 5.00 6.25 7.65
Colombia =57 6.67 9.17 7.14 4.44 4.38 8.24
Peru 59 6.65 9.17 5.36 6.11 4.38 8.24
El Salvador 60 6.64 9.17 6.07 4.44 5.00 8.53
Romania =61 6.62 9.17 5.71 5.00 5.00 8.24
Mongolia =61 6.62 9.17 5.71 5.00 5.00 8.24
Lesotho 63 6.59 8.25 5.36 6.67 5.63 7.06
Serbia 64 6.57 8.75 5.36 6.67 5.00 7.06
Malaysia 65 6.54 6.92 7.86 6.11 6.25 5.59
Sri Lanka 66 6.48 7.83 6.79 5.00 6.88 5.88
Mexico 67 6.47 7.92 6.07 7.22 4.38 6.76
Hong Kong 68 6.42 3.92 5.71 5.56 7.50 9.41
Tunisia 69 6.40 6.00 6.07 7.78 6.25 5.88
Singapore 70 6.38 4.33 7.86 6.11 6.25 7.35
Namibia 71 6.31 5.67 5.36 6.67 5.63 8.24
Paraguay 72 6.27 8.33 5.71 5.00 4.38 7.94
Guyana 73 6.25 8.33 5.36 6.11 4.38 7.06
Senegal 74 6.21 7.92 5.36 4.44 6.25 7.06
Papua New Guinea 75 6.03 6.92 6.07 3.89 5.63 7.65
Moldova 76 6.01 7.92 4.29 6.11 4.38 7.35
Hybrid regime
Zambia 77 5.99 7.08 5.36 3.89 6.88 6.76
Georgia 78 5.93 8.67 4.29 6.11 5.00 5.59
Honduras =79 5.92 9.17 5.71 3.89 4.38 6.47
Guatemala =79 5.92 7.92 6.07 3.89 4.38 7.35
Albania 81 5.91 7.00 4.36 5.56 5.00 7.65
Ecuador 82 5.81 8.25 4.64 5.00 4.38 6.76
Tanzania 83 5.76 7.00 5.00 5.56 6.25 5.00
Bangladesh 84 5.73 7.42 5.07 5.00 4.38 6.76
Montenegro 85 5.72 7.08 5.36 5.00 4.38 6.76
Ukraine =86 5.70 5.83 3.93 6.67 5.00 7.06
Mali =86 5.70 7.42 3.93 4.44 6.25 6.47
Benin 88 5.67 6.50 5.36 5.00 5.63 5.88
Fiji 89 5.64 4.58 5.71 6.67 5.63 5.59
Bolivia 90 5.63 7.00 5.36 5.00 3.75 7.06
Malawi 91 5.55 6.58 4.29 4.44 6.25 6.18
Kenya 92 5.33 4.33 5.00 6.67 5.63 5.00
Liberia 93 5.31 7.83 2.57 5.56 5.00 5.59
Uganda 94 5.26 5.25 3.57 4.44 6.88 6.18
Macedonia 95 5.23 6.92 3.21 6.11 3.75 6.18
Madagascar 96 5.07 5.92 3.57 5.56 5.63 4.71
Turkey 97 5.04 5.83 6.07 5.00 5.63 2.65
Kyrgyz Republic =98 4.93 7.42 2.93 5.56 3.75 5.00
Bhutan =98 4.93 8.33 5.36 2.78 4.38 3.82
Thailand 100 4.92 4.50 3.93 5.00 5.00 6.18
Bosnia and Hercegovina 101 4.87 6.50 2.93 5.00 3.75 6.18
Lebanon =102 4.86 4.42 2.14 7.78 4.38 5.59
Nepal =102 4.86 4.33 4.29 4.44 5.63 5.59
Nicaragua 104 4.81 4.50 3.29 3.89 5.63 6.76
Morocco 105 4.77 4.75 4.64 4.44 5.63 4.41
Burkina Faso 106 4.70 4.42 4.29 4.44 5.63 4.71
Venezuela 107 4.68 5.67 2.50 5.56 4.38 5.29
Sierra Leone 108 4.55 6.58 1.86 2.78 6.25 5.29
Nigeria 109 4.50 6.08 4.29 3.33 4.38 4.41
Palestine 110 4.49 4.33 2.14 7.78 4.38 3.82
Pakistan 111 4.33 6.00 5.36 2.78 2.50 5.00
Cambodia 112 4.27 3.17 5.71 3.33 5.00 4.12
Myanmar 113 4.20 3.17 3.57 4.44 6.88 2.94
Iraq 114 4.08 4.33 0.07 7.22 4.38 4.41
Mozambique =115 4.02 4.42 2.14 5.00 5.00 3.53
Haiti =115 4.02 5.17 2.21 2.22 3.75 6.76
Mauritania =117 3.96 3.00 4.29 5.00 3.13 4.41
Jordan =117 3.96 4.00 4.29 3.89 4.38 3.24
Niger =117 3.96 6.25 1.14 3.33 4.38 4.71
Armenia 120 3.88 4.33 2.86 4.44 1.88 5.88
Kuwait 121 3.85 3.17 4.29 3.89 4.38 3.53
Côte d’Ivoire 122 3.81 3.42 2.86 3.33 5.63 3.82
Gabon 123 3.74 2.58 2.21 4.44 5.63 3.82
Comoros 124 3.71 4.33 2.21 4.44 3.75 3.82
Ethiopia 125 3.60 0.00 3.57 5.56 5.63 3.24
Algeria 126 3.56 2.58 2.21 3.89 5.00 4.12
Belarus 127 3.54 1.33 3.57 3.89 6.25 2.65
Cameroon =128 3.46 2.00 3.21 3.89 4.38 3.82
Cuba =128 3.46 1.75 4.64 3.89 4.38 2.65
Angola 130 3.40 0.92 3.21 5.56 4.38 2.94
Vietnam 131 3.38 0.00 3.21 3.89 6.88 2.94
Togo 132 3.32 3.58 1.14 2.78 5.00 4.12
Egypt 133 3.31 2.58 3.93 3.33 3.75 2.94
Russia 134 3.24 2.67 2.50 5.00 2.50 3.53
Qatar 135 3.18 0.00 3.93 2.22 5.63 4.12
Guinea =136 3.14 3.50 0.43 4.44 4.38 2.94
China =136 3.14 0.00 4.64 3.33 6.25 1.47
Rwanda 138 3.07 0.83 5.00 2.22 4.38 2.94
Kazakhstan 139 3.06 0.50 2.14 4.44 4.38 3.82
Zimbabwe 140 3.05 0.50 2.00 3.89 5.63 3.24
Oman 141 3.04 0.00 3.93 2.78 4.38 4.12
Swaziland 142 3.03 0.92 2.86 2.22 5.63 3.53
Congo (Brazzaville) =143 2.91 1.67 2.86 3.33 3.75 2.94
Gambia =143 2.91 1.75 3.21 2.22 5.00 2.35
Djibouti 145 2.83 0.42 2.14 3.33 5.63 2.65
Bahrain 146 2.79 1.25 3.21 2.78 4.38 2.35
United Arab Emirates 147 2.75 0.00 3.57 2.22 5.00 2.94
Azerbaijan 148 2.65 0.50 2.14 3.33 3.75 3.53
Afghanistan 149 2.55 2.50 1.14 2.78 2.50 3.82
Burundi 150 2.40 -0.33 0.79 3.89 5.00 2.65
Sudan =151 2.37 0.00 1.79 3.89 5.00 1.18
Eritrea =151 2.37 0.00 2.14 1.67 6.88 1.18
Laos =151 2.37 0.83 2.86 1.67 5.00 1.47
Iran 154 2.34 0.00 3.21 3.89 3.13 1.47
Libya 155 2.25 1.00 0.00 1.67 5.63 2.94
Yemen 156 2.07 0.00 0.00 4.44 5.00 0.88
Guinea-Bissau 157 1.98 1.67 0.00 2.78 3.13 2.35
Uzbekistan 158 1.95 0.08 1.86 2.22 5.00 0.59
Democratic Republic of Congo =159 1.93 0.92 0.71 2.78 4.38 0.88
Saudi Arabia =159 1.93 0.00 2.86 2.22 3.13 1.47
Tajikistan 161 1.89 0.58 0.07 1.67 6.25 0.88
Turkmenistan 162 1.83 0.00 0.79 2.78 5.00 0.59
Equatorial Guinea 163 1.70 0.00 0.43 2.22 4.38 1.47
Central African Republic 164 1.61 1.75 0.36 1.11 2.50 2.35
Chad 165 1.50 0.00 0.00 1.11 3.75 2.65
Syria 166 1.43 0.00 0.00 2.78 4.38 0.00
North Korea 167 1.08 0.00 2.50 1.67 1.25 0.00


Brexit, Trump and the 2016 revolt against the elites

The parallels between the June 2016 Brexit vote and the outcome of the November 8th US election are manifold. In both cases, the electorate defied the political establishment. Both votes represented a rebellion from below against out-of-touch elites. Both were the culmination of a long-term trend of declining popular trust in government institutions, political parties and politicians. They showed that society’s marginalised and forgotten voters, often working-class and blue-collar, do not share the same values as the dominant political elite and are demanding a voice of their own—and if the mainstream parties will not provide it, they will look elsewhere. This is the main lesson for political leaders facing election in Europe in 2017 and beyond.

Donald Trump’s victory was stunning because it was achieved in the face of the unremitting hostility of the entire political establishment, including in his own Republican Party, big business, the media (only one major newspaper and one major TV channel backed Mr Trump) and the cultural elite. This was even more the case for Mr Trump than for the “Leave” campaign in the UK, which had the support of sections of the establishment and some daily newspapers. Mr Trump’s campaign cleverly used social media, especially Twitter, to flatten the media and reach out to people directly.

The thing that mainstream commentators said disqualified Mr Trump—his lack of political experience—was what qualified him in the view of so many who voted for him. He appealed to the angry, anti-political mood of large swathes of the electorate who feel that the two mainstream parties no longer speak for them. Exit polls on the day of the election revealed that a desire for change, for a break with the political status quo, was a major factor in determining voting choices in the election.

This has been the message coming out of countless surveys of US voters from the Pew Research Centre, the Gallup polling agency and the World Values Survey reports, which have revealed a long-term trend of declining confidence in political institutions and elites (see Box: A trust deficit is undermining democracy page 14). Pew surveys show that less than one in five Americans think that “you can trust the government to do what is right” all or most of the time. In June 2016 only 9% of US respondents expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress, according to Gallup. During the Brexit campaign similar surveys revealed a huge divide in levels of trust in government, politicians and experts between Remain and Leave supporters. The same trend of falling popular trust in institutions has been evident in Europe in recent decades, as confirmed by the regular Eurobarometer surveys.

The populists are mobilising people

The populists are channelling disaffection from sections of society that have lost faith in the mainstream parties. They are filling a vacuum and mobilising people on the basis of a populist, anti-elite message and are also appealing to people’s hankering to be heard, to be represented, to have their views taken seriously. Populist parties and politicians are often not especially coherent and often do not have convincing answers to the problems they purport to address, but they nevertheless pose a challenge to the political mainstream because they are connecting with people who believe the established parties no longer speak for them.

A striking and much-remarked upon feature of the populist upsurge, in both Europe and the US, is its increasingly (but not exclusively) working-class or blue-collar character. It is a revolt by large sections of society who feel that they have been abandoned politically, economically, socially and culturally by the mainstream political parties to which they used to give their allegiance. The non-college educated, white vote was firmly for Mr Trump, with large percentages of the pro-Trump vote coming from “forgotten” voters in left-behind towns in the rust belt.

A similar trend was evident in the UK, where working-class voters, including many who had not bothered to vote in recent general elections and some who had never previously bothered to vote, made it their business to cast their ballots for Brexit. The turnout in the Brexit referendum was above 72%, indicating that the electorate was motivated to turn out because they believed that their vote could change something for once.

Similarly, in France Marine Le Pen of the Front national (FN) refers to the France beyond Paris of blue-collar workers, small farmers and low-level employees as the “France of the forgotten”.

She is hoping to build on the momentum provided by the Brexit and Trump victories and persuade disenchanted French voters to break with the mainstream parties and vote for change as represented by the FN.

The political class against the “deplorables”

In Europe and the US, the political class seems increasingly out of touch with the people they purport to represent and often seems to express contempt for sections of the electorate. Hillary Clinton put half of Mr Trump’s voters in her “basket of deplorables”. In the UK, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) picked up support from workers in the Midlands and the north of England who no longer feel much connection with the Labour Party, the traditional party of the working class. Mr Trump deliberately drew on the popular revolt against the political order epitomised by the Brexit vote. He visited the UK the morning after the vote and hailed the result as signifying “independence day”.

He drew the parallel often at his campaign-trail rallies. He invited Mr Farage to the US to address his audience. In the closing days of the campaign he said that if he won it would be “Brexit plus, plus, plus” for the US.

Mr Trump was also able to count on the distinct lack of enthusiasm for Mrs Clinton among working-class black and Hispanic voters. Unsurprisingly, in 2016 black voters did not turn out for Mrs Clinton, a doyenne of the white political establishment who failed to inspire them with hope in the manner of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Although they voted overwhelmingly for Mrs Clinton, they did not do so in sufficient numbers to tip the result. The Hispanic voter turnout was higher than ever before, predominantly favouring Mrs Clinton, but Mr Trump increased the Republican share of the Hispanic vote compared with Mitt Romney in 2012.

The seismic nature of the Brexit and Trump victories should not be underestimated. Politics as we have known it for the past 70 years is not going to go back to “normal”. The Brexit and Trump breakthroughs could add further fuel to the populist challenge to the mainstream parties that is evident across Europe. The populists are prepared to debate the big political issues of the day, and they are mobilising people to become engaged in the political process and to vote. Ruling elites across Europe are facing the prospect of a gathering anti-elite revolt, and apart from dismissing the insurgent parties and their voters as being deluded, manipulated or simply beyond the pale, they have so far shown little inkling of how to respond. In the next section we look at the broader manifestations of the present crisis of democracy and examine their roots, and we analyse how a combination of economic, social and political factors contributed to the Brexit and Trump phenomena.

A trust deficit is undermining democracy

Popular trust in governments, institutions, political parties and politicians has been declining for decades in the US and Europe, resulting in a full-blown legitimacy crisis for today’s political elites. In 2016 the UK vote to leave the EU (Brexit) and the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election were the most powerful expressions of the mood of popular distrust of political elites that is threatening to upend the political status quo across the developed democracies.

There has been a long-term secular trend of declining trust throughout the Western world since the 1970s. This accelerated after the collapse of communism in 1989 and deepened after the 2008-09 global financial crisis, as has been well documented in regular surveys by the World Values Survey, the Pew Research Centre, Gallup, Edelman, Eurobarometer and others. Trust in a wide array of institutions has now fallen to such low levels in the US, the UK, France, Greece and other European countries that it is becoming difficult to sustain representative democracy in its present form.


EIU 2016 2



Defining and measuring democracy

There is no consensus on how to measure democracy. Definitions of democracy are contested, and there is a lively debate on the subject. The issue is not only of academic interest. For example, although democracy promotion is high on the list of US foreign-policy priorities, there is no consensus within the US government as to what constitutes a democracy. As one observer put it: “The world’s only superpower is rhetorically and militarily promoting a political system that remains undefined—and it is staking its credibility and treasure on that pursuit,” (Horowitz, 2006, p. 114).

Although the terms “freedom” and “democracy” are often used interchangeably, the two are not synonymous. Democracy can be seen as a set of practices and principles that institutionalise, and thereby, ultimately, protect freedom. Even if a consensus on precise definitions has proved elusive, most observers today would agree that, at a minimum, the fundamental features of a democracy include government based on majority rule and the consent of the governed; the existence of free and fair elections; the protection of minority rights; and respect for basic human rights. Democracy presupposes equality before the law, due process and political pluralism. A question arises as to whether reference to these basic features is sufficient for a satisfactory concept of democracy. As discussed below, there is a question as to how far the definition may need to be widened.

Some insist that democracy is, necessarily, a dichotomous concept: a state is either democratic or not. But most measures now appear to adhere to a continuous concept, with the possibility of varying degrees of democracy. At present, the best-known measure is produced by the US-based Freedom House organisation. The average of its indexes, on a 1 to 7 scale, of political freedom (based on 10 indicators) and of civil liberties (based on 15 indicators) is often taken to be a measure of democracy.

The Freedom House measure is available for all countries, and stretches back to the early 1970s. It has been used heavily in empirical investigations of the relationship between democracy and various economic and social variables. The so-called Polity Project provides, for a smaller number of countries, measures of democracy and regime types, based on rather minimalist definitions, stretching back to the 19th century. These have also been used in empirical work.

Freedom House also measures a narrower concept, that of “electoral democracy”. Democracies in this minimal sense share at least one common, essential characteristic. Positions of political power are filled through regular, free and fair elections between competing parties, and it is possible for an incumbent government to be turned out of office through elections. Freedom House’s criteria for an electoral democracy include:

1) A competitive, multi-party political system.

2) Universal adult suffrage.

3) Regularly contested elections conducted on the basis of secret ballots, reasonable ballot security and the absence of massive voter fraud.

4) Significant public access of major political parties to the electorate through the media and through generally open political campaigning.

The Freedom House definition of political freedom is more demanding (although not much) than its criteria for electoral democracy—that is, it classifies more countries as electoral democracies than as “free” (some “partly free” countries are also categorised as “electoral democracies”). At the end of 2015, 125 out of 193 states were classified as “electoral democracies”; of these, on a more stringent criterion, 89 states were classified as “free”. The Freedom House political-freedom measure covers the electoral process and political pluralism and, to a lesser extent, the functioning of government and a few aspects of participation.

A key difference in measures is between “thin”, or minimalist, and “thick”, or wider, concepts of democracy (Coppedge, 2005). The thin concepts correspond closely to an immensely influential academic definition of democracy, that of Dahl’s concept of polyarchy (Dahl, 1970). Polyarchy has eight components, or institutional requirements: almost all adult citizens have the right to vote; almost all adult citizens are eligible for public office; political leaders have the right to compete for votes; elections are free and fair; all citizens are free to form and join political parties and other organisations; all citizens are free to express themselves on all political issues; diverse sources of information about politics exist and are protected by law; and government policies depend on votes and other expressions of preference.

The Freedom House electoral democracy measure is a thin concept. Its measure of democracy based on political rights and civil liberties is “thicker” than the measure of “electoral democracy”. Other definitions of democracy have broadened to include aspects of society and political culture in democratic societies.

The Economist Intelligence Unit measure

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index is based on the view that measures of democracy that reflect the state of political freedoms and civil liberties are not thick enough. They do not encompass sufficiently, or, in some cases, at all, the features that determine how substantive democracy is. Freedom is an essential component of democracy, but not, in itself, sufficient. In existing measures, the elements of political participation and functioning of government are taken into account only in a marginal and formal way.

Our Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The five categories are interrelated and form a coherent conceptual whole. The condition of holding free and fair competitive elections, and satisfying related aspects of political freedom, is clearly the sine qua non of all definitions.

All modern definitions, except the most minimalist, also consider civil liberties to be a vital component of what is often called “liberal democracy”. The principle of the protection of basic human rights is widely accepted. It is embodied in constitutions throughout the world, as well as in the UN Charter and international agreements such as the Helsinki Final Act (the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe). Basic human rights include freedom of speech, expression and of the press; freedom of religion; freedom of assembly and association; and the right to due judicial process. All democracies are systems in which citizens freely make political decisions by majority rule. But rule by the majority is not necessarily democratic. In a democracy, majority rule must be combined with guarantees of individual human rights and the rights of minorities. Most measures also include aspects of the minimum quality of functioning of government. If democratically based decisions cannot be or are not implemented, then the concept of democracy is not very meaningful.

Democracy is more than the sum of its institutions. A democratic political culture is also crucial for the legitimacy, smooth functioning and, ultimately, the sustainability of democracy. A culture of passivity and apathy—an obedient and docile citizenry—is not consistent with democracy. The electoral process periodically divides the population into winners and losers. A successful democratic political culture implies that the losing parties and their supporters accept the judgment of the voters and allow for the peaceful transfer of power.

Participation is also a necessary component, as apathy and abstention are enemies of democracy. Even measures that focus predominantly on the processes of representative, liberal democracy include (albeit inadequately or insufficiently) some aspects of participation. In a democracy, government is only one element in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political organisations and associations. Citizens cannot be required to take part in the political process, and they are free to express their dissatisfaction by not participating. However, a healthy democracy requires the active, freely chosen participation of citizens in public life. Democracies flourish when citizens are willing to participate in public debate, elect representatives and join political parties. Without this broad, sustaining participation, democracy begins to wither and become the preserve of small, select groups.

At the same time, even our thicker, more inclusive and wider measure of democracy does not include other aspects—which some authors argue are also crucial components of democracy—such as levels of economic and social wellbeing. Therefore, our Index respects the dominant tradition that holds that a variety of social and economic outcomes can be consistent with political democracy, which is a separate concept.


The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of democracy, on a 0 to 10 scale, is based on the ratings for 60 indicators, grouped into five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Each category has a rating on a 0 to 10 scale, and the overall Index is the simple average of the five category indexes.

The category indexes are based on the sum of the indicator scores in the category, converted to a 0 to 10 scale. Adjustments to the category scores are made if countries do not score a 1 in the following critical areas for democracy:

1. Whether national elections are free and fair.

2. The security of voters.

3. The influence of foreign powers on government.

4. The capability of the civil service to implement policies.

If the scores for the first three questions are 0 (or 0.5), one point (0.5 point) is deducted from the index in the relevant category (either the electoral process and pluralism or the functioning of government). If the score for 4 is 0, one point is deducted from the functioning of government category index.

The index values are used to place countries within one of four types of regime:

1. Full democracies: scores of 8 o 10

2. Flawed democracies: score of 6 to 7.9

3. Hybrid regimes: scores of 4 to 5.9

4 Authoritarian regimes: scores below 4

Threshold points for regime types depend on overall scores that are rounded to one decimal point.

Full democracies: Countries in which not only basic political freedoms and civil liberties are respected, but which also tend to be underpinned by a political culture conducive to the flourishing of democracy. The functioning of government is satisfactory. Media are independent and diverse. There is an effective system of checks and balances. The judiciary is independent and judicial decisions are enforced. There are only limited problems in the functioning of democracies.

Flawed democracies: These countries also have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.

Hybrid regimes: Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. Government pressure on opposition parties and candidates may be common. Serious weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies—in political culture, functioning of government and political participation. Corruption tends to be widespread and the rule of law is weak. Civil society is weak. Typically, there is harassment of and pressure on journalists, and the judiciary is not independent.

Authoritarian regimes: In these states, state political pluralism is absent or heavily circumscribed. Many countries in this category are outright dictatorships. Some formal institutions of democracy may exist, but these have little substance. Elections, if they do occur, are not free and fair. There is disregard for abuses and infringements of civil liberties. Media are typically state-owned or controlled by groups connected to the ruling regime. There is repression of criticism of the government and pervasive censorship. There is no independent judiciary.

The scoring system

We use a combination of a dichotomous and a three-point scoring system for the 60 indicators. A dichotomous 1-0 scoring system (1 for a yes and 0 for a no answer) is not without problems, but it has several distinct advantages over more refined scoring scales (such as the often-used 1-5 or 1-7). For many indicators, the possibility of a 0.5 score is introduced, to capture “grey areas”, where a simple yes (1) or no (0) is problematic, with guidelines as to when that should be used. Consequently, for many indicators there is a three-point scoring system, which represents a compromise between simple dichotomous scoring and the use of finer scales.

The problems of 1-5 or 1-7 scoring scales are numerous. For most indicators under such systems, it is extremely difficult to define meaningful and comparable criteria or guidelines for each score.

This can lead to arbitrary, spurious and non-comparable scorings. For example, a score of 2 for one country may be scored a 3 in another, and so on. Alternatively, one expert might score an indicator for a particular country in a different way to another expert. This contravenes a basic principle of measurement, that of so-called reliability—the degree to which a measurement procedure produces the same measurements every time, regardless of who is performing it. Two- and three-point systems do not guarantee reliability, but make it more likely.

Second, comparability between indicator scores and aggregation into a multi-dimensional index appears more valid with a two- or three-point scale for each indicator (the dimensions being aggregated are similar across indicators). By contrast, with a 1-5 system, the scores are more likely to mean different things across the indicators (for example, a 2 for one indicator may be more comparable to a 3 or 4 for another indicator). The problems of a 1-5 or 1-7 system are magnified when attempting to extend the index to many regions and countries.



Acemoglu, Daron, Simon Johnson, James A Robinson and Pierre Yared (2005). “Income and Democracy”, NBER Working Paper No. 11205, March.

Anastasakis, Othon (2011). “Greek democracy at gunpoint”, European Voice, November 10th. Butter, David (2011). “Whatever happened to Arab Revolutions?” MENA Regional Overview, The Economist Intelligence Unit, September.

Cartledge, Paul (2016), Democracy: a life, Oxford: Oxford University press.

Coppedge, Michael (2005). “Defining and measuring democracy”, Working paper, International Political Science Association, April.

Dahl, Robert (1970). Polyarchy, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Diamond, Larry & Plattner, Mark, Eds, (2016), Democracy in decline? Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Diamond, Larry (2008). “The democratic rollback”, Foreign Affairs, March-April. Diamond, Larry (2011). “Democracy’s third wave today”, Current History, November.

Foa, Roberto Stefan & Mounk, Yascha (2016), “The danger of deconsolidation”, Journal of Democracy, July 2016, Volume 27, Number 3.

Foa, Roberto Stefan & Mounk, Yascha (2017), “The signs of deconsolidation”, Journal of Democracy, January 2017, Volume 28, Number 1.

Freedom House, various, www.freedomhouse.org.

Fukuyama, Francis (2004). State-building: Governance and world order in the twenty-first century, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Fukuyama, Francis (2011). The origins of political order: From prehuman times to the French Revolution, London: Profile Books.

Fukuyama, Francis (2014). Political order and political decay: From the industrial revolution to the globalisation of democracy, London: Profile Books.

Hoey, Joan (2005). “Eastern Europe’s democratic transition: the stillbirth of politics”, Economies in Transition Regional Overview, The Economist Intelligence Unit, March.

Hoey, Joan (2011). “A tale of two Europes: The impact of the crisis on attitudes and values”, Economies in Transition Regional Overview, The Economist Intelligence Unit, September. Hoey, Joan (2015). Democracy on the edge: Populism and protest, a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit for the BBC.

Horowitz, Irving Louis (2006). “The struggle for democracy”, National Interest, spring. ILO (2010). World of Work Report 2010: From one crisis to the next?, November.

Inglehart, Ronald F, “The danger of deconsolidation: how much should we worry?” Journal of Democracy, July 2016, Volume 27, Number 3.

Kekic, Laza (2006). “A pause in democracy’s march”, The World in 2007, The Economist.

Kolata, Gina (2015), “Death rates rising for middle-aged white Americans, study finds”, The New York Times, November 2nd.

Krastev, Ivan (2014). Democracy disrupted: the politics of global protest, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Mair, Peter (2013). Ruling the void: the hollowing out of Western democracy, London: verso.

Murray, Charles (2012). Coming apart: the state of white America, 1960-2010,New York:Crown Forum. Pew Research Center, (2015). Beyond distrust: how Americans view their government, November 23rd.

Putnam, Robert (2000). Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Putnam, Robert (2015). Our kids: the American dream in crisis, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Reporters without borders (2016). World Press Freedom Index 2016. https://rsf.org/en/ranking Rigobon, Roberto and Dani Rodrik (2005). “Rule of law, democracy, openness, and income: Estimating the interrelationships”, Economics of Transition, Volume 13 (3).

Thaker, Pratibha (2010). “Democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa”, Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Overview, The Economist Intelligence Unit, December.

UN (2010). Human Development Report.

UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Organisation of American States (2011). Our Democracy in Latin America.

Wolf, Martin (2016). “Democrats, demagogues and despots”, Financial Times, December 21st.





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