In a CDDRL seminar series talk, FSI’s Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy Larry Diamond provided a comprehensive view of the global state of democracy. Drawing on Freedom House data, he noted that, for the first time since 2006, almost as many countries made gains in freedom as those that experienced declines. While the trend may seem promising, Diamond cautioned that the future of the current global democratic recession is anything but certain.
Diamond’s analysis draws on a democracy measure averaging three different indicators, namely those of Freedom House, Economist Intelligence Unit, and Varieties of Liberal Democracy. Although aggregate global trends show that democratic decline has been moderate since 2006, with the largest erosion occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa, the picture looks more concerning upon closer examination. Among countries with populations over 1 million, the percentage of democracies is only 43 percent, which marks a 20-percentage point drop from 2006. Considering that India and Indonesia can no longer be classified as clearly democratic, Diamond explained, only a quarter of the world’s population today live under democracies (compared to 54 percent in 2006). The ratio of democratic transitions to autocratic breakdowns, moreover, has been declining, especially in the last five years.
Diamond’s presentation underscored the centrality of the rule of law in driving democratic decline rates. Based on Freedom House data, the rule of law has lagged behind political rights and civil liberties in many countries. In explaining the roots of the democratic recession, Diamond highlighted the erosion of normative commitments to democracy, weakening institutions, and poor economic and political performance.
Despite the alarming global trends and the setbacks suffered in longstanding democracies such as India, the illiberal populist currents driving this democratic recession can be reversed, as evidenced by the recent defeat of Poland’s Law and Justice Party at the polls. Diamond ended his talk by noting that the near-term trajectory of global democracy will largely be shaped by the outcome of elections in the United States and India in 2024.
Watch a recording of Diamond's talk below, or explore upcoming CDDRL events here.