A present wave of democratic erosion around the globe is part of a larger historic cycle of progress and regression, according to the author of a report released this week designating U.S. democracy as “backsliding” for the first time.
“There is a mimicking effect that also comes into play, which we saw from the mid-1970s onwards in the world, a third wave of democratization. What we are clearly seeing now is a reverse wave,” says Annika Silva-Leander, who authored the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s annual report on the Global State of Democracy. “Less countries (are) becoming democratic (and those) that are democratic (are) declining in quality. Therefore, their models and systems are discredited…The democratic world is quite fragmented right now.”
Defined as democratic nations experiencing “gradual but significant weakening of checks on government and civil liberties,” backsliding democracies now make up over 30% of the world’s population. According to its annual report, the International IDEA has found that the U.S. faces particular challenges in the realms of effective legislative bodies and declines in the freedoms of expression and assembly.
The report, which draws on expert surveys as well as empirical evidence including 116 democratic indicators from 1975 to late 2020 from 165 countries, classifies each country as democratic (including “backsliding”), “hybrid,” or authoritarian according to a range of democratic indicators.
Though the 2021 edition marks the first appearance of the U.S. on the list, the International IDEA reports that this “backsliding episode began at least in 2019,” with signals as early as 2016 and origins that precede even then.
“We know from other indicators not included in our measurements that levels of polarization have increased in the U.S. in the past decade,” says Silva-Leander. “What we find when we look at data globally is that lower levels of public support for democracy often coincide with increasing levels of polarization and voters turning to parties that have a lesser commitment to democratic values.”
Marred further by since-discredited challenges to the electoral process and pandemic measures the report says “amount to democratic violations,” the foundation of American democracy has experienced a marked deterioration in the last year alone. Democratic regression is extending beyond U.S. borders, the organization said, with some countries drawing inspiration from the last U.S. presidential election.
“The former U.S. President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations during the 2020 U.S. presidential election have had spillover effects, including in Brazil, Mexico, Myanmar and Peru,” according to the report.
Now, what was once “hailed optimistically as the century of democracy” has seen the rise of far right regimes and the erosion of democratic ideals. With the pandemic providing “additional tools and justification for repressive tactics and silencing of dissent,” the tides of authoritarianism seem slow to subside, as this marks the fifth consecutive year that the number of countries with declining democratic parties exceeds those increasing.
The report comes in advance of a “summit for democracy” that U.S. President Joe Biden plans to host next month to assemble members of countries’ governments, private sectors, and civil societies to push back against autocratic encroachment and human rights violations.
In combination with the passage of legislation to counter voting restrictions, which Silva-Leander and her organization say pose a threat to complete political participation, she agrees with a joint approach, stating that “it’s going to also involve democracies collaborating” to remedy the health of democracy around the world.
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Study Classifies U.S. Democracy as ?Backsliding? for the First Time originally appeared on usnews.com