Democracy Index 2011: Democracy Under Stress

Dec. 16, 2011, 3:24 p.m.

The Economist Intelligence Unit published its its fourth Democracy Index. The index draws on expert opinion and public opinion surveys to evaluate the level of freedoms in 165 countries along 60 indicators covering five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The index noted that government reactions to protests around the world typically resulted in retreats from democratic values. The report also examines the causes of the Arab Spring and the challenges that MENA countries face while transitioning to a fully functional democracy. It suggests that democracy around the world will continue to face threats and that hopes for a new wave of democracy are not likely to be met.

2011 was an exceptionally turbulent year politically, characterised by sovereign debt crises and weak  political leadership in the developed world, dramatic change and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and rising social unrest throughout much of the world. It featured important changes in democracy, both in the direction of unexpected democratisation and a continuation of decline in democracy in some parts of the world.
The momentous events in the Arab world have been extraordinary in several respects. The popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt a year ago were sudden and unexpected, occurring in seemingly infertile territory. These revolts were home-grown affairs that overturned a host of stereotypes about the MENA region and caught the outside world unaware. Other key developments in 2011 include:

  •  Popular confidence in political institutions continues to decline in many countries.

  • Mounting social unrest could pose a threat to democracy in some countries. 

  •  US democracy has been adversely affected by a deepening of the polarisation of the political scene
    and political brinkmanship and paralysis.

  •  The US and the UK remain at the bottom end of the full democracy category. There has been a rise in
    protest movement. Problems in the functioning of government are more prominent. 

  •  Although extremist political forces in Europe have not yet profited from economic dislocation as
    might have been feared, populism and anti-immigrant sentiment are on the rise.

  •  Eastern Europe experienced another decline in democracy in 2011. In 12 countries of the region the
    democracy score declined in 2011.

  •  Rampant crime in some countries—in particular, violence and drug-trafficking—continues to have a
    negative impact on democracy in Latin America.

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