The Economist Democracy Index rates countries on the state of their governing system each year. In the latest installment published, only 21 countries in the world were rated as “full democracies” (down from 23 in 2020), including all Scandinavian countries, several Western European nations as well as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Uruguay, Mauritius, Costa Rica, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
France and Portugal went back to flawed status in 2020 after having spent just one year in the highest section, and there they remained in 2021.
Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon and Haiti were also demoted in the latest index, exiting the “hybrid regime” category and becoming authoritarian.
The EIU stated that overall, democracy around the world hit an all-time low with the average score of countries sinking to 5.28 from 5.37 the previous year – an even larger drop than that recorded between 2019 and 2020.
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The sharp decline in the North America average score in 2021 was driven mainly by a deterioration in Canada, whose score fell by 0.37 points to 8.87. New survey data show a worrying trend of disaffection among Canada’s citizens with traditional democratic institutions and increased levels of support for non-democratic alternatives, such as rule by experts or the military. Canada’s citizens feel that they have little control over their lives, a sentiment that has been compounded by pandemic-related restrictions on individual freedoms. Canada’s worsening score raises questions about whether it might begin to suffer from some of the same afflictions as its US neighbour, such as extremely low levels of public trust in political parties and government institutions.
The US score declined further as its new president Joe Biden, struggled to arrest the democratic decline that has occurred over the past few decades. At the end of 2021, Mr Biden hosted the first of two Summits for Democracy, whose aim is to revive democracy globally. Given the tarnishing of America’s democratic credentials in recent years, the initiative elicited cynicism in many parts of the world.
The US score for our “citizens control” indicator (gauging the degree to which citizens feel they have control over their lives) continued to fall in 2021, following a trend that emerged in 2020 amid the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Much of this decline reflected pandemic fatigue and growing resistance to coronavirus restrictions after previous measures were rolled back earlier in 2021. For example, a Morning Consult poll conducted in late November 2021 found that only 44% of American adults supported closing businesses and government facilities to combat the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, while more than 70% supported less restrictive measures, such as social distancing and mask wearing.
The countries rated most poorly were Afghanistan, Myanmar and North Korea.