The U.S. has been added to an annual list of “backsliding” democracies for the first time, with the intergovernmental organization behind the analysis citing election disinformation, voter disenchantment and the coronavirus pandemic among the reasons for the decline.
The report released Monday by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, based in Sweden, finds that the U.S. has fallen “victim to authoritarian tendencies” in recent years with this decline following a larger five-year trend seen globally.
“More than two-thirds of the world’s population now live in backsliding democracies or autocratic regimes,” states the Global State of Democracy (GSoD Indices) report, which was first launched in 2016. “The world is becoming more authoritarian as non-democratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression.”
The report says that democratic backsliding is often a gradual process that ends with either the democracy breaking down or it returning to normal health. This takes an average of nine years from the onset of backsliding, it said.
Globally, the report found that election results have become more contested, even when the elections were found to be largely free and fair. The report cites former President Donald Trump’s questioning of the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results as “a historic turning point” in this growing theme that has damaged public trust in elections.
“Trump’s baseless allegations during the 2020 US presidential election have had spillover effects, including in Brazil, Mexico, Myanmar and Peru, among others,” the report states. “Baseless allegations of electoral fraud and related disinformation undermined fundamental trust in the electoral process, which culminated in the storming of the US Capitol building in January 2021.”
Related, the GSoD Indices noted a decline in “clean elections” in the U.S. since 2015. Clean elections are defined in the report as ones that are free, lack evidence of voting irregularities and government intimidation, and where there’s fair electoral competition. Similar declines were seen in Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Mauritius, Namibia and Poland, according to the report.
Political activism was also found to have dropped in the U.S., with the report blaming voter disenchantment and an increasing perception that governments are failing to address people’s social and economic needs. Supporting this negative perception, the report cited some states’ voter registration and voting access laws, ones either recently enacted or under discussion, which have been found to disproportionately harm minorities’ right to vote. Such controversial laws have recently gained approval in Texas, Georgia, Arizona and Florida.
The report also says the coronavirus pandemic has harmed democratic rights globally. The uneven global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines along with the rise in vaccine misinformation has not only prolonged the health crisis but has normalized restrictions on basic freedoms, the report states.
In the U.S., the report pointed to incidents at the start of the pandemic in which doctors and medical staff were ordered not to speak to journalists about shortages in personal protective equipment and other dire working conditions or they’d face termination. Elsewhere in the world, people have faced criminal prosecution if they shared pandemic disinformation, and military forces were used to enforce compliance with pandemic-related rules.
On the flip side, the report found that many democratic countries learned to adapt and continue to practice fair elections despite such exceedingly challenging conditions.
“They rapidly activated special voting arrangements to allow citizens to continue exercising their democratic rights,” the report states.