Back to blog

Democracy continues its disturbing retreat

See blog

Readers' comments

Reader comments are listed below. Comments are currently closed and new comments are no longer being accepted.


Sense Seeker in reply to guest-smolmni

"the US, India and SA in the same category"
Yes, hard to accept that the US is at that level now, isn't it. So the study must be wrong. Otherwise, you'd really have to wonder about the direction of the US the last several years.


Talk about fake news -- the US, India and SA in the same category -- which anyone who has spent time in those three countries will know is nonsense. You really have to wonder about the direction of the Economist the last several years -- more political pap that is now available for free on the internet and fewer facts. It is too bad.

rewt66 in reply to PS1337

Yeah. "You can vote for any candidate, as long as it's ours" isn't democracy. "You can get your news from any source, as long as we control it" isn't a free press. And "You can say whatever you want, as long as you don't say anything bad about the Party, the government, or the country" isn't free speech.

PS1337 in reply to Godfree Roberts

Yes it's much like in the former GDR or Eastern Germany. People went to the ballot box in droves and the single ruling Party - the SED - enjoyed dream values of 99,5% of votes! It so baffling that this beloved regime would go under, despite people loving it so so much.

Their form of democracy was very simliar to Chinas, a very good system indeed. In this form of democracy you are given the choice to vote for the regime by your own free will! And to make sure you make an informed decision you are supported by state news, which tell you who to vote (of course the regime... duh) and why having more than one party on the ballot is really really bad.

So I fullheartedly agree with your point. Since the military doesn't allow its shareholders to choose their generals, neither should the public be allowed to choose the public administration. I mean... come on, how crazy would that be?!

Sense Seeker in reply to Godfree Roberts

"Neither corporations nor the military allow their shareholders or members to publicly vote on their choice of senior executives. Why should we choose our government leaders that way?"
Why indeed. Just that question shows that you have no idea what democracy is about. Hint: it's not about how good people say they feel.
Instead it is more about human rights. And this is what Amnesty International says about China: "The government continued to draft and enact a series of new national security laws that presented serious threats to the protection of human rights. The nationwide crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists continued throughout the year. Activists and human rights defenders continued to be systematically subjected to monitoring, harassment, intimidation, arrest and detention. Police detained increasing numbers of human rights defenders outside of formal detention facilities, sometimes without access to a lawyer for long periods, exposing the detainees to the risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Booksellers, publishers, activists and a journalist who went missing in neighbouring countries in 2015 and 2016 turned up in detention in China, causing concerns about China’s law enforcement agencies acting outside their jurisdiction. Controls on the internet, mass media and academia were significantly strengthened. Repression of religious activities outside of direct state control increased. Religious repression conducted under “anti-separatism” or “counter-terrorism” campaigns remained particularly severe in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and in Tibetan-populated areas."
That doesn't suggest a vibrant democracy in China.


"...the idea of a global “democratic recession”
That assertion is NOT supported by the data accompanying the article, by any statistical metric.
Is it because TE's (un)intelligent unit is stupid? or because it hold the general readership in such a contempt that it didn't even bother to check its own data?


Is the US a "hybrid"? I'm being serious. We have so many people unable to vote, and the notion that we are one-person-one-vote has been shown to be a myth, given impact of electoral college.


The "Intelligence Unit" seems a misnomer. Obviously skewed result to coincide with The Economist's editorial board - no wonder the Scandinavian Countries, Australia, NZ, and Canada score so well - very predictable as they are the countries that the newspaper adores, mostly for their socialist domestic politics. When Mr Corbyn is PM, you will no doubt move the UK up...


Is the color coding scheme inspired by president Trump's recent comment, you know, about African countries?


You see, there is a big difference between theory and practice. A country where much of the society believes it is ruled by a closed political elite with no outside influence on them, is NOT a democracy. A country where administration is ineffective and cannot fulfill whatever citizens ask, is NOT a democracy either. Whatever formal attributes of democracy there exist. Erosion of democracy is erosion of the process, not always of formal institutions.


About France: "The country’s civil-liberties score declined because its legislature passed a law expanding the government’s emergency powers".

This is of course the classic weakness of democracy: in case of emergency it is not capable of reacting quickly and decisive enough.

The problem is, as Churchill noted, that all known alternatives are even worse. Where is the balance?


As long as we're talking about the retreat of democracy as TE tends to define it, fine by us.

S4nuv8XW3d in reply to guest-aamamnsi

The electoral college continues to do what it was always meant to do: mitigate the outsized influence of large population states over small population states. This was a central issue in the Constitutional Congress, which led to our bicameral Congress, where one house is determined by population and the other with two votes per state, and an electoral college for nationwide office. You'll note that the election of Senators and Members of the House are indeed through one person/one vote on a state by state basis. But as the founders noted, different states have always had different, and often divergent interests, that need to be mitigated so that the interests of small states are not overwhelmed.

In truth, each party in the United States only finds it useful to bemoan the electoral college when their candidates lose.

As to article calling the United States a flawed democracy, I think the conclusion is flawed. The United States is a representative democracy/republic. In other words, it is not a democracy, nor was it ever meant to be one. So the beginning premise sets an incorrect benchmark from the outset for the country.

Naturally, this would be true for other countries with different governing structures in place. Perhaps, what the kind folks at the economist should do is focus on varying levels of freedoms around the globe (speech, religion, thought, assembly, press, etc.) as opposed to how votes are cast (though levels of corruption within the electoral systems would be worth a look).


None of the countries in the EU should be in, because voters opinions are secondary to demands of the EU central. And the EU is not democratic - whatever are its other positive attributes.


Quite unconvincing chart.
E.g. Thailand a hybrid? Military dictatorship since 2014, no elections in sight, high corruption, many ethnic groups have not even citizenship and are disenfranchised, high prison sentences for lese majeste cases, etc.
Myanmar has an elected government but no control over military. Ok, it is not a democracy. But it is also not full authoritarian.
TE should publish the 60 indicators and how they are weighted. Seems that day to day, journalistic opinion trumped rigorous research.

Godfree Roberts

Is it residual imperialism (surely not racism!) that causes TE to rank China as non-democratic?

If you look under the hood, you'll find that China is probably the most democratic country on earth.

No matter how you slice it–constitutionally, electively, popularly, procedurally, operationally, substantively or financially–China comes out ahead.

In survey after survey, it's the most trusted government in the world and its policies enjoy the highest support. Don't believe me? Read 'Selling Democracy to the Chinese'

It's lazy to deny that China is a democracy just because her application of democracy is different from ours and we can't be bothered looking into it. The Chinese public certainly don't think their votes are worthless: voter turnout there is higher than the US or the UK.

And with good reason: by any measure–constitutionally, electively, popularly, procedurally, operationally, substantively or financially–China comes out ahead in the democracy stakes.

Chinese voters elect 3,000 (their elections overseen by the Carter Center) Congresspeople, who elect a permanent subcommittee that participates in personnel selection.

China, with her thousands of years experience of governance theory and practice, considers it inappropriate to choose personnel by public vote. Instead, they publish the top 1000 candidates' track records in excruciating detail but leave the final recommendations to experts. If you study the candidates' records yourself, you will quickly understand why the top guys are where they are. They earned it the hard way.

Choosing heads of State requires much closer scrutiny, so HR experts and previous heads of state and a Congressional subcommittee carry on many face-to-face interviews before choosing the Final Seven and the Big Two. Once everyone is on the same page, the top positions are put before Congress for their seal of approval. Their customary, almost-unanimous votes here are not a reflection of their alleged 'rubber stamp' function, but of near-consensus in a consensus-driven culture.

(Congress plays a much more active role in policy formation and delays legislation for years until it feels confident that it will achieve the desired effects nationwide. And all legislation must be accompanied by years of field-trial data and first-hand testimony from both the sponsoring officials and their intended publics.

As we can see, this system produces both highly competent leaders and excellent policy outcomes. It also produces very, very happy voters: 96% of Chinese have confidence in their government and 83% say their country is run for everyone’s benefit rather than for a few big interest groups (36% of Americans think the same).

80–90% of Chinese trust their government, the highest trust level of any national government, according to the Edelman 2016 Report, .

And "Nine in ten Chinese are happy with the direction of their country (87%), feel good about the current state of their economy (91%) and are optimistic about China’s economic future (87%)." According to the Pew Charitable Trusts

(Neither corporations nor the military allow their shareholders or members to publicly vote on their choice of senior executives. Why should we choose our government leaders that way?)