Newspaper article

U.S. Falls to 'Flawed Democracy' in Latest Democracy Index

Newspaper article

U.S. Falls to 'Flawed Democracy' in Latest Democracy Index

Article excerpt

Don't take this as another attack on President Trump, but 2016 was a bad year for democracy in the world and a setback for the quality of democracy, even in the United States.

That's according to the latest update of the "Democracy Index" put out by the "Intelligence Unit" operated by the UK-based Economist Group, which publishes The Economist magazine and other publications. The Economist Intelligence Unit has been measuring changes in the quantity and quality of the global quotient of democracy over recent years.

In their latest report, these democracy raters stated that:

Almost one-half (49.3%) of the world's population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only 4.5% reside in a "full democracy", down from 8.9% in 2015 as a result of the US being demoted from a "full democracy" to a "flawed democracy."

If you're willing to look at things in a bigger picture for a moment (which I highly recommend, in case you want to take a break from focusing on the last few months), the 20th century saw a huge growth in the spread of democracy, in surges after each of the world wars, and then again with the breakup of the Soviet bloc. Africa, Asia and Latin America all made big progress in the 20th century, and that was before the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) started measuring, rating and tracking democracy. That effort began only in 2006, with updates every couple of years, and the latest update hot off the presses.

And most of the movement has been toward more democracy in the early 21st century as well, until the setback in 2016 (as the EIU scores it). 2016 was the first year that the EIU rated the United States as enjoying anything less than "full democracy." As they explained their scoring system, you need 8 or higher to rank among the "full democracies," and the latest ranking for the U.S. dropped us from 8.05 in 2015 to 7.98 in 2016. So, you see, it isn't that big of a change, but one that had been coming for several years and just enough to drop the U.S. from the "full democracy" ranks.

A healthy democracy requires a high level of popular confidence in the institutions of government and politics. It seems that the U.S. decline had mostly to do with a continuing decline in the U.S. electorate's confidence in their government, their system and their elected officials, a decline that was in place before Trump stole the show. In fact, the EIU seems to be arguing that Trump didn't cause the decline, but capitalized on it. The authors wrote:

Popular trust in government, elected representatives and political parties has fallen to extremely low levels in the US. This has been a long-term trend and one that preceded the election of Mr. Trump as US president in November 2016. By tapping a deep strain of political disaffection with the functioning of democracy, Mr. …

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