The United States is no longer a full democracy, according to the highly regarded Economist Intelligence Unit, which each year compiles a Democracy Index that “provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories.”
“The US, a standard-bearer of democracy for the world, has become a ‘flawed democracy,’ as popular confidence in the functioning of public institutions has declined,” explains the introduction to the freshly released Democracy Index.
That would be a troubling announcement in any week.
But coming in the first week of the presidency of Donald Trump, a man who has claimed that election systems are “rigged,” who lies about supposed “voter fraud” and who attacks the media outlets who call him out for those lies, the announcement is all the more unsettling.
For those of us who have for many years worried about the vulnerable state of democracy in America, the news is even more troubling because the Democracy Index analysis reminds us that this is about a lot more than Donald Trump.
“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,” explains the analysis. “By tapping a deep strain of political disaffection with the functioning of democracy, Mr Trump became a beneficiary of the low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives and political parties, but he was not responsible for a problem that has had a long gestation. The US has been teetering on the brink of becoming a ‘flawed democracy’ for several years, and even if there had been no presidential election in 2016, its score would have slipped below 8.00.”
A country must maintain an 8.00 rating (on measures of the electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture). The US rating was 8.05 last year. It is now 7.98; and index ranking for the US has fallen to number 21—just behind Japan, just ahead of the Republic of Cabo Verde. The United States is not ranked with the world’s authoritarian states; it’s in the company of Bulgaria, France, India, and Mongolia. But the US is no longer ranked in the “full democracy” category with Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. And it is ranked well below social democracies such as Norway (#1 on the 2016 Democracy Index), Iceland (#2), and Sweden (#3).