A new study from the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) has found that democratic progress has stalled, worldwide, over the past five years and that, in many cases, the status quo is no better than it was in 1990, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In short, the number of backsliding countries – those with the most severe democratic erosion – is at its peak. Globally, the number of countries moving towards authoritarianism is more than double the number moving towards democracy. In this regard, 2021 was the worst year on record, with authoritarian regimes deepening their repression.

As of the end of 2021, half of the 173 countries assessed by IDEA experienced declines in at least one sub-attribute of democracy.

A regional breakdown of democracies in decline

In Europe, almost half of all democracies have suffered erosion in the past five years. These declines affect 46% of the “high-performing” democracies.

Three out of seven backsliding democracies are in the Americas, pointing to weakening institutions even in long-standing democracies such as the US, which is facing problems of political polarisation, institutional disfunction  and threats to civil liberties.

Democracy is receding in Asia-Pacific, while authoritarianism solidifies. Only 54% of people in the region live in a democracy, and almost 85% of those live in one that is weak or backsliding. Even high and mid-performing democracies such as Australia, Japan and Taiwan are suffering democratic erosion.

Despite myriad challenges, Africa remains resilient in the face of such instability. Countries including Gambia, Niger and Zambia are improving in democratic quality. Overcoming a restricted civic space, civic action in several countries has created opportunities to renegotiate the social contract, and outcomes have varied by country.

IDEA’s report is the largest report of its kind, measuring democratic performance for 158 countries from 1975 until 2022 and providing a comprehensive health check on the state of democracies around the world.