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Mapping: The state of democracy in the world

The (nearly) eight billion inhabitants of the planet live in very diverse political and cultural circumstances. In general terms, these circumstances can be measured and presented on a sliding scale between “free” and “unfree” – the subtext being that democracy is at one end and authoritarianism at the other.

This year Democracy Index Report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), is one such attempt to score countries based on their degree of conformity to democratic ideals.

According to the EIU, the state of democracy is at its lowest since the index began in 2006, in part because of pandemic restrictions that have seen many countries struggle to balance public health with personal freedom.

In this year’s report, the EIU reported a drop in the average global score from 5.37 to 5.28, the biggest drop since 2010 after the global financial crisis. This translates into a sobering fact: only 46% of the population lives in a “somewhat” democracy.

Let’s dive a little deeper into what that means.

Percentage of population by plan type

In 2021, 37% of the world’s population still lived under an authoritarian regime. Afghanistan tops the list, followed by Myanmar, North Korea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria. Of course, China has a large portion of the population living under this style of regime.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have full democracies, which represent only 6.4% of the population. Norway tops the list, followed by New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and Iceland.

Diet type Number of countries Share of countries Share of world population
Complete democracies 21 12.6% 6.4%
Imperfect democracies 53 31.7% 39.3%
Hybrid diets 34 20.4% 17.2%
Authoritarian regimes 59 35.3% 37.1%

Let’s explore the characteristics of each of the four diet types according to the EIU:

Complete democracies are the nations where:

  • Civil liberties and fundamental political freedoms are respected
  • There are valid systems of government checks and balances
  • There are limited problems in the democratic functioning
  • The media are diverse and independent

Imperfect democracies are the nations where:

  • Elections are fair and free
  • Fundamental freedoms are respected but may have problems
  • There are problems in the functioning of governance

Hybrid diets are the nations where:

  • Election Fraud or Irregularities Occur Regularly
  • Pressure is exerted on the political opposition
  • Corruption is widespread and the rule of law tends to be weak
  • The media are pressured and harassed
  • There are problems in the functioning of governance

Authoritarian regimes are the nations where:

  • Political pluralism is non-existent or limited
  • The population is ruled by absolute monarchies or dictatorships
  • Infringements and abuses of civil liberties are commonplace
  • Elections are neither fair nor free (if held)
  • The media is state-owned or directly or indirectly controlled by the ruling regime
  • The judiciary is not independent
  • Government critics are censored

Global Democracy Index by region

As mentioned earlier, in 2021 the global democracy score fell from 5.37 to 5.28. This is explained by a drop in the average regional score, but each region has a different reality. Let’s take a look at the democratic state of each region of the world.

Americas

North America (Canada and the United States) is the top-ranked region on the Democracy Index with an average score of 8.36, but this has fallen significantly from 8.58 in 2020.

Both countries have lost their position in the world rankings, however, Canada still retains its status as a full democracy.

The United States is consistently rated by the EIU as a flawed democracy, and has been since 2016. The report highlights extreme polarization and “gerrymandering” as key issues facing the country. On the bright side, political participation in the United States is still very robust compared to the rest of the world.

Latin America and the Caribbean saw the largest drop in regional scores in the world. This region fell from 6.09 in 2020 to 5.83 in 2021. This drop shows the general dissatisfaction of the people with the way their governments have handled the pandemic.

In this region, the only country that is fully democratic is Costa Rica. On the other side of the spectrum, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba fall under the classification of authoritarian regimes.

Europe

In 2021, Western Europe is the region with the most democracies in the world.

In fact, four of the top five full democracies are in this region: Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland. Notable degradation in this region has occurred in Spain; the country is now considered a flawed democracy.

map showing the democracy index measuring political regimes in europe

Eastern Europe paints a different picture, where there is not a single complete democracy. Three countries (Moldova, Montenegro and North Macedonia) have gone from hybrid regimes to imperfect democracies.

Ukraine’s score fell to 5.57, becoming a hybrid region. Russia’s score also fell to 3.24, retaining authoritarian regime status. It’s important to note that this EIU report was released before the invasion of Ukraine began, and the conflict will almost certainly impact the scores for next year’s report.

Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa has the most countries at the bottom of the Democracy Index.

The fact is that 23 countries are considered “authoritarian regimes”. Meanwhile, there are 14 countries that are hybrid regimes, six countries under flawed democracy, and only one country, Mauritius, is considered a full democracy.

map showing the democracy index measuring political regimes in africa

In North Africa, four countries are considered authoritarian regimes: Sudan, Egypt, Libya and Algeria. Only Morocco and Tunisia fall within the classification of the hybrid regime.

Middle East and Central Asia

This region concentrates a significant number of countries classified as authoritarian regimes. In fact, the region’s overall democracy score is now lower than it was before the start of the Arab Spring in 2010.

map showing the democracy index measuring political regimes in the middle east

There are no countries that fall into the category of full democracy in this region. Only Israel (7.97) and Cyprus (7.43) are considered imperfect democracies. Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Pakistan fall under the category of hybrid regimes, and the rest of the countries in the region are considered authoritarian regimes.

East Asia and Oceania

This vast region is full of contrasts. Besides Western Europe, East Asia and Oceania contain the most complete democracies: New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea and Japan. There are also a large number of countries that fall into the category of imperfect democracies.

map showing democracy index measuring political regimes in east asia and oceania

It should be noted that some of the most contentious geopolitical relations are between neighbors with large differences in their scores: China and Taiwan, or North and South Korea are examples of this juxtaposition.

Declining levels of global democracy

Two years after the world was hit by the pandemic, we can see that global democracy is on a downward trend.

The overall score for each region saw a decline, with the exception of Western Europe, which remained stable. Of the 167 countries, 74 (44%) saw a decline in their democracy score.

As pandemic restrictions continue to be lifted, will democracy make a comeback in 2022?