The United States has been added to an annual list of “backsliding” democracies for the first time, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance NGO has said, pointing to a “visible deterioration” that began in 2019.
The Stockholm-based organisation makes its annual assessment using 50 years of democratic indicators. It places about 160 countries into three categories: democracies, including “backsliding” democracies; “hybrid” governments; and authoritarian regimes.
Globally, the report said more than one in four people live in a “backsliding” democracy, while two-thirds of the world live in either a “backsliding” democracy, “hybrid” or authoritarian regimes.
“This year we coded the United States as backsliding for the first time, but our data suggest that the backsliding episode began at least in 2019,” said the report, titled: Global State of Democracy 2021.
“A historic turning point came in 2020-21 when former president Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States,” the report said, referring to a campaign by the former president and his allies to overturn the 2020 US election results, which culminated in Trump’s supporters storming the seat of the US legislature on January 6.
The report also cited growing polarisation in the US, as well as state voting laws “disproportionately affecting minorities in a negative way”.
IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora called the “visible deterioration of democracy” in the US “one of the most concerning developments” in the 2021 report, according to the AFP news agency.
He warned of a knock-on effect, noting: “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.”
The report said the number of backsliding democracies in the world had doubled in the past decade.
In addition to “established democracies” such as the US, the list includes European Union member states Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia.
Two countries that were on the list last year – Ukraine and North Macedonia – were removed this year after their situations improved.
Meanwhile, Turkey, Nicaragua, Serbia, Poland, and Brazil were rated as having the most significant democratic declines over the last decade.
The report says in 2020 there were 98 democracies in the world, 20 “hybrid” governments, including Russia, Morocco, and Turkey, and 47 authoritarian regimes, which include China, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Iran.
The trend towards democratic erosion has “become more acute and worrying” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report added.
“Some countries, particularly Hungary, India, the Philippines and the USA, have [imposed] measures that amount to democratic violations – that is, measures that were disproportionate, illegal, indefinite or unconnected to the nature of the emergency,” it said.