The Democracy Index is compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Using expert interviews, the index has measured the state of democracy around the world since 2006. The Democracy Index has been criticised for lacking transparency as it does not clarify who the experts are. However, the Economist Intelligence Unit is well respected and this is likely the best available dataset on democracy.
The Democracy Index has identified a worrying trend in US politics, the United States is becoming less democratic. The slow demise of US democracy is observed during the terms of both Republican & Democratic presidents.
US Democracy Indexes Over Time
A lower index means less democratic, see appendix below for sources & definitions
This disturbing trend isn’t seen in the other Five Eyes countries. In fact, of Five Eyes countries, the US is the only country that has seen a consistent decrease since the Democracy Index began. Given the increasing cases of voter suppression in the US, this trend is likely to continue.
Democracy Index Five Eyes Comparison
Democracy is dying by a thousand cuts in the United States. People like Sheriff Daniel Coverley who threatened to stop responding to 911 calls from a local library because he disagreed with their proposed diversity statement¹ is a threat to US democracy. Superdelegates in the Democratic Party that have more voting power then other citizens are a threat to US democracy. Gerrymandered is a threat to US democracy. And then there are the more obvious voter suppression attacks on US democracy. The attacks are coming from all sides and all levels of government.
Fortunately the United States still has strong institutions like the Supreme Court which can challenge some of these attacks. In 2019, the Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census². Citizenship data would enable more efficient gerrymandering. This Supreme Court ruling occurred even though the majority of Justices were Republican appointed. However given the direction of democracy in the US, I do not believe the Supreme Court will remain non partisan for long which will accelerate the demise of democracy.
The trend worries me because the United States is full of amazing people (including many good friends) who deserve representation. Politics in the US has become polarizing distractions and politicized truths. A country that has lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers spreading democracy now has citizens claiming that wearing a mask infringes on their constitutional rights. Something is wrong here.
Indexes are composed from the following indicators estimated by experts in each field.
- Are elections for the national legislature and head of government free?
- Are elections for the national legislature and head of government fair?
- Are municipal elections both free and fair?
- Is there universal suffrage for all adults?
- Can citizens cast their vote free of significant threats to their security from state or non-state bodies?
- Do laws provide for broadly equal campaigning opportunities?
- Is the process of financing political parties transparent and generally accepted?
- Following elections, are the constitutional mechanisms for the orderly transfer of power from one government to another clear, established and accepted?
- Are citizens free to form political parties that are independent of the government?
- Do opposition parties have a realistic prospect of achieving government?
- Is potential access to public office open to all citizens?
- Are citizens allowed to form political and civic organisations, free of state interference and surveillance?
Functioning of government
- Do freely elected representatives determine government policy?
- Is the legislature the supreme political body, with a clear supremacy over other branches of government?
- Is there an effective system of checks and balances on the exercise of government authority?
- Government is free of undue influence by the military or the security services.
- Foreign powers and organisations do not determine important government functions or policies.
- Do special economic, religious or other powerful domestic groups exercise significant political power, parallel to democratic institutions?
- Are sufficient mechanisms and institutions in place for ensuring government accountability to the electorate in between elections?
- Does the government’s authority extend over the full territory of the country?
- Is the functioning of government open and transparent, with sufficient public access to information?
- How pervasive is corruption?
- Is the civil service willing to and capable of implementing government policy?
- Popular perceptions of the extent to which citizens have free choice and control over their lives.
- Public confidence in government.
- Public confidence in political parties.
- Voter participation/turn-out for national elections.
- Do ethnic, religious and other minorities have a reasonable degree of autonomy and voice in the political process?
- Women in parliament.
- Extent of political participation. Membership of political parties and political non-governmental organisations.
- Citizens’ engagement with politics
- The preparedness of population to take part in lawful demonstrations.
- Adult literacy
- Extent to which adult population shows an interest in and follows politics in the news.
- The authorities make a serious effort to promote political participation.
- Is there a sufficient degree of societal consensus and cohesion to underpin a stable, functioning democracy?
- Perceptions of leadership; proportion of the population that desires a strong leader who bypasses parliament and elections.
- Perceptions of military rule; proportion of the population that would prefer military rule.
- Perceptions of rule by experts or technocratic government; proportion of the population that would prefer rule by experts or technocrats.
- Perception of democracy and public order; proportion of the population that believes that democracies are not good at maintaining public order.
- Perception of democracy and the economic system; proportion of the population that believes that democracy benefits economic performance.
- Degree of popular support for democracy.
- There is a strong tradition of the separation of Church and State.
- Is there a free electronic media?
- Is there a free print media?
- Is there freedom of expression and protest (bar only generally accepted restrictions, such as banning advocacy of violence)?
- Is media coverage robust? Is there open and free discussion of public issues, with a reasonable diversity of opinions?
- Are there political restrictions on access to the Internet?
- Are citizens free to form professional organisations and trade unions?
- Do institutions provide citizens with the opportunity to petition government to redress grievances?
- The use of torture by the state.
- The degree to which the judiciary is independent of government influence. Consider the views of international legal and judicial watchdogs. Have the courts ever issued an important judgement against the government, or a senior government official?
- The degree of religious tolerance and freedom of religious expression. Are all religions permitted to operate freely, or are some restricted? Is the right to worship permitted both publicly and privately? Do some religious groups feel intimidated by others, even if the law requires equality and protection?
- The degree to which citizens are treated equally under the law. Consider whether favoured groups or individuals are spared prosecution under the law.
- Do citizens enjoy basic security?
- Extent to which private property rights are protected and private business is free from undue government influence.
- Extent to which citizens enjoy personal freedoms. Consider gender equality, right to travel, choice of work and study.
- Popular perceptions on protection of human rights; proportion of the population that think that basic human rights are well-protected.
- There is no significant discrimination on the basis of people’s race, colour or religious beliefs.
- Extent to which the government invokes new risks and threats as an excuse for curbing civil liberties.
Further details of the model are on page 55 of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2019 publication.
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2006
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2008
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2010
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2011
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2012
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2013
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2014
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2015
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2016
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2017
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2018
- The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2019