Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Health of Democracy in America

While Washington likes to think of itself as the democracy to be emulated by all nations around the globe, setting the standard for what a democracy really should be, a recent study by the Variety of Democracies Project in Sweden would suggest that the state of democracy in the United States is under significant strain, an issue that has become particularly obvious given the state of political theatre in Washington since the 2000 hanging chads debacle in Florida.

In the 2018 edition of the Variety of Democracies (V-Dem) report from the University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden we get a sense of the health of democracy around the world. For the purposes of this posting, I wish to focus on findings of democratic health in the United States, looking at how it has changed in recent years as well as comparing the current state of democracy in America to other nations around the world.  V-Dem has the largest global database on democracy with over 19 million data points for 201 nations over the years from 1789 to 2017.  V-Dem measures the quality of elections using a significant number of indicators including voting rights, campaign media, opposition boycotts, electoral violence and independence of the body managing the election.  By asking the question "Taking all aspects of the pre-election period, Election Day, and the post-election process into account, would you consider this national election to be free and fair?", the results can be compared for elections held in 161 countries over the period from 2000 to 2012. 

The authors of the report note that liberal democracies are systematically better than other political regimes like electoral democracies and autocracies at ensuring that all citizens can influence the political process, no matter their socio-economic status or gender.  V-Dem defines liberal democracies as electoral democracies with three additional components:

1.) Rule of law ensuring respect for civil liberties.

2.) Constraints on the executive by the judiciary.

3.) Constraints on the executive by the legislature.

Other political systems can result in political exclusion and reduced freedom and political power.  This is particularly apparent in nations where growing socio-economic stratification is taking place, putting more political power in the hands of the wealthy oligarchy and removing it from the lower stratas of society.  As such, autocratization is defined by V-Dem as a decline in democratic qualities whether the country is a democracy or an autocracy.

If we look at the world in its entirety, here is a graphic showing the share of the global population by each type of regime in 2017:

While the majority of the global population lives in democratic regimes, the authors of the report note that there has been a significant increase in the world's population that is experiencing autocratization with one-third of the world's population or 2.5 billion people living in regimes that are becoming less democratic.  These nations include India, Brazil, Russia, Turkey, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Thailand, Ukraine, Poland and....wait for it, the United States.

Here is a graph showing how democracies have evolved with improving liberal democracies above the line and declining electoral democracies (i.e. nations experiencing autocratization) below the line over rate decade from 2007 to 2017:

As you can see, democracy in the United States has shown a substantial decline over the decade.
Here is a graphic showing where the United States scores on the V-Dem liberal democracy index as compares to the rest of the world keeping in mind that a Liberal Democracy index (LDI) of over 0.5 indicates a democracy and with the advancing nations shown in green and the backsliding nations (autocratizing) shown in red:

Here is a table showing the nations showing the greatest autocratization over the past two years and the change in their LDI:

Let's close this posting with a brief observation.  While both sides of the political spectrum in the United States have expressed their concerns over the fairness of the upcoming mid-term elections (Democrats over vote suppression and Republicans over voter fraud) and Washington as a whole clearly stating its belief that Russia, China and Iran are meddling in the 2018 electoral circus, the fact that democracy is under threat in America is cleverly never mentioned by either side.  Given the fact that billions of dollars are pumped into federal politics by the wealthy oligarchy in America, it is quite clear that the will of the many is being subsumed by the will of the few, one of the significant issues that is leading to increased autocratization in the United States.

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