Facing up to the Democratic Recession



Journal of Democracy
Page numbers: 


Starting from 1974, Larry Diamond from Stanford University notes that Freedom House's average level of freedom in the world steadily improved from 4.38 (on a seven-point scale with 1 being the most free) to a peak of 3.22 in 2005. Starting in 2006, the number of electoral and liberal democracies levelled off and the average level of freedom in the world has deteriorated slightly to 3.30.

Looking beneath these broad global numbers, the author sees four distinct trends:

  • Democratic breakdowns: the author counts 25 breakdowns of democracy since 2000 including military or executive coups, massive electoral fraud, even a monarchical coup. He counts 10 of these countries as returning to democracy since the breakdown, but all of them still fragile.
  • Democratic erosions: according to Freedom House, for eight consecutive years more countries have declined in freedom than improved. Scores on the sub-categories of transparency and the rule of law have declined the most and reflect a growing trend of executive 'abuse of power, rigging of elections, and violations of the democratic rules of the game'.
  • An Authoritarian Resurgence: there has been a deepening of authoritarianism in countries that were not considered democracies. Diamond also notes the increased use of 'soft-power' and efforts to block the influence of democracies and NGOs by such autocratic regimes as China and Russia.
  • Decline of confidence and efficacy in Western democracies: economic stagnation, policy gridlock and a decline in trust from their citizens has led most established, Western democracies to lessen their focus and commitment of resources to democracy promotion around the world.

The author concludes that the democratic recession is real, but not severe. He notes that global surveys still show that the desire for accountability, freedom and political choice remains strong and that authoritarian regimes face their own difficulties in maintaining legitimacy and stability.


Thumbnail image: Coba/Flickr.

Larry Diamond

Stanford University

Published Date
January 1, 2015