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One-third of the world’s population lives in countries where democracy is in decline, according to an international research group.

2.6 billion people—a third of the world’s population—live in countries where democracy is in retreat, according to the new study based on the largest dataset on democracy, published today in Democratization. The research also found that only 15 percent of people globally live in places where women and lower income groups have at least somewhat equal access to power.

The study looked at qualities associated with a democracy such as autonomous media, open elections, and free expression. It concluded that in 2017, some of those qualities were declining in 24 countries, including populous democracies like the United States and India.

The researchers analyzed “autocratization,” which they call “democratization in reverse,” using 19 million data points and 400 “variables on democracy, human rights, governance, rule of law, and corruption.” They use the term “backsliding” to describe declines.

The data revealed that in 2017 democratic qualities were in decline in 24 countries across the world, including some of the most populous, such as the USA and India. When weighted by the population size of each country, the analysis showed that levels of democracy are falling for one-third of people worldwide.

Recent years have seen a decline in factors such as “media autonomy, freedom of expression, and the rule of law,” according to study leader Dr. Anna Lührmann from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

“Media autonomy, freedom of expression, and the rule of law have undergone the greatest declines among democracy metrics in recent years. This worrisome trend makes elections less meaningful across the world.”

– Dr. Lührmann said:

This is the time since 1979 that the number of countries facing a decline of democracy matched the number of countries advancing democratic qualities.


Anna Lührmann et al. State of the World 2017: Autocratization and Exclusion? Democratization June 20, 2018. DOI: 10.1080 / 13510347.2018.1479693