The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2017
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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 its 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”. A full methodology and explanations can be found in the Appendix.
This is the tenth edition of the Democracy Index, which began in 2006. It records how global democracy fared in 2017. The results are discussed in this introduction and in greater detail in the review of the regions that follows. A special focus of this year’s report is the state of media freedom around the world and the challenges facing freedom of speech. In this part of the report, we present our Media Freedom Index and global ranking. The report discusses the importance of free speech for advancing and strengthening democracy and examines the constraints on exercising freedom of expression around the world. We look at how media freedom and freedom of expression are faring in every region.
In the 2017 Democracy Index not a single region recorded an improvement in its average score compared with 2016. The average regional score for North America (Canada and the US) remained the same. All the other six regions experienced a regression, as signified by a decline in their regional average score. In a reversal of recent trends, Asia and Australasia was the worst-performing region in 2017. The star performer of recent years experienced a decline in its regional average score for the first time since 2010-11, when it also regressed in the aftermath of the global economic and financial crisis.
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” in 2016 (see Democracy Index 2017 by regime type, page 2). Around one-third of the world’s population lives under authoritarian rule, with a large share being in China.
According to the 2017 Democracy Index, 76 of the 167 countries covered by the model, or 45.5% of all countries, can be considered to be democracies. The number of “full democracies” has remained at 19 in 2017, the same as in 2016, when the total declined from 20 in 2015 as the US fell into the “flawed democracy” category. The score for the US fell to 7.98 in 2016, reflecting a sharp fall in popular confidence in the functioning of public institutions, a trend that predated—and aided—the election of Donald Trump. Of the remaining 91 countries in our index, 52 are “authoritarian” and 39 are classified as “hybrid regimes”.
Disappointment with “actually existing democracy”
A decline in media freedoms and curbs on freedom of speech, which we discuss in the second part of this report, are only one aspect of a broad-based deterioration in the practice of democracy in recent years. Larry Diamond, one of the world’s leading democracy scholars, says that we have been going through a “democracy recession”, and this trend of stagnation and/or regression has been reflected in our annual Democracy Index since its launch in 2006. Strikingly, this has been most apparent in some of the oldest democracies in the world, in western Europe—whose regression since 2006 is almost as bad as that in the eastern half of the continent—and in the US. The main manifestations of this democracy recession include:
- declining popular participation in elections and politics
- weaknesses in the functioning of government
- declining trust in institutions
- dwindling appeal of mainstream representative parties
- growing influence of unelected, unaccountable institutions and expert bodies
- widening gap between political elites and electorates
- decline in media freedoms
- erosion of civil liberties, including curbs on free speech.
Democracy Index 2017, by regime type
|No. of countries||% of countries||% of world population|
|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.|
2017: the global average score slides once more
In the 2017 Democracy Index the average global score fell from 5.52 in 2016 to 5.48 (on a scale of 0 to 10). Some 89 countries experienced a decline in their total score compared with 2016, more than three times as many as the countries that recorded an improvement (27), the worst performance since 2010-11 in the aftermath of the global economic and financial crisis. The other 51 countries stagnated, as their scores remained unchanged compared with 2016.
A survey by Pew Research Centre on global attitudes towards democracy, published in October 2017, revealed a disjuncture between still generally high levels of public support for democracy across the globe and deep popular disappointment with the functioning of democracy and systems of political representation. This disappointment is particularly pronounced in the developed world and helps to explain the popular revolt against mainstream parties and establishment elites that was the subject of the 2016 Democracy Index report, Revenge of the “deplorables”. The UK’s vote in June 2016 to leave the EU (Brexit) and the election of Donald Trump as US president were both expressions of deep popular dissatisfaction with the status quo and of a hankering for change.
If 2016 was notable for the populist insurgency against mainstream political parties and politicians in the developed democracies of Europe and North America, 2017 was defined by a backlash against populism, including campaigns to reverse the Brexit result and unseat President Trump. The reaction of some academics, journalists and politicians to the events of 2016 has been to argue that Western liberal democracy is under threat from the rise of “illiberal democracy” and the “new authoritarianism”.
In the UK, an assortment of pro-European lawyers, politicians, journalists and educational professionals fought a rear-guard action in the courts, the House of Commons and the House of Lords to delay, amend or stymie government legislation aimed at implementing the referendum vote to leave the EU. In the US there was a similar refusal to accept the outcome of the 2016 presidential election by Democratic Party activists, sections of the media, university professors and students, amid demands that the president be impeached on the grounds that he was unfit for the highest office.
A deepening divide between the people and the experts
The reaction to the populist insurgency has revealed the prevalence of prejudices about the average voter in some political, academic and media circles. In his book The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Edward Luce observed that “oikophobia is real” and that “the elites have become progressively more sceptical of democracy since the fall of the Berlin Wall”. Some blamed popular ignorance and xenophobia for the Brexit and Trump results and argued that those who voted for them were political illiterates who had been duped by “post-truth politics” or worse, bigots with xenophobic views. In this way, some opponents of Brexit and Trump have presented voters (and supporters of populist parties in general) as the threat to democracy today. The popular reaction to an economic and political system which many voters feel has left them behind is presented as the cause of democracy’s ailments rather than a consequence of them.
According to Luce (2017), the crux of the West’s democratic crisis is that “our societies are split between the will of the people and the rule of the experts—the tyranny of the majority versus the club of self-serving insiders; Britain versus Brussels; West Virginia versus Washington. It follows that the election of Trump and Britain’s exit from the EU are a reassertion of the popular will.” The split that Luce observes is one of deepening polarisation between the political class and alienated voters in the West. This has been the most striking trend in the Western democracies in 2017.
Democracy Index 2017
|Rank||Overall score||Electoral process and pluralism||Functioning of government||Political participation||Political culture||Civil liberties|
|United States of America||=21||7.98||9.17||7.14||7.22||8.13||8.24|
|Trinidad and Tobago||46||7.04||9.58||7.14||5.56||5.00||7.94|
|Papua New Guinea||75||6.03||6.92||6.07||3.89||5.63||7.65|
|Bosnia and Hercegovina||=101||4.87||6.50||2.93||5.00||3.75||6.18|
|United Arab Emirates||147||2.69||0.00||3.57||2.22||5.00||2.65|
|Democratic Republic of Congo||163||1.61||0.50||0.71||2.22||3.75||0.88|
|Central African Republic||164||1.52||2.25||0.00||1.11||1.88||2.35|