In first, US labeled ‘backsliding’ democracy as global authoritarianism grows

Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

For the first time in its four years of compiling annual data on the state of democracy around the world, an international think tank added the United States to its list of “backsliding” democracies in the report it released Monday, pointing to factors including politicians’ continued false claims that the 2020 presidential election results were illegitimate as one of the key elements weakening the country’s democratic system.

The Global State of Democracy report, released by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), called former President Donald Trump’s public questioning of the election results in November 2020 “a historic turning point” both for U.S. democracy and the world, pointing to a knock-on effect in several countries.

“The visible deterioration of democracy in the United States, as seen in the increasing tendency to contest credible election results, the efforts to suppress participation (in elections), and the runaway polarization… is one of the most concerning developments,” International IDEA secretary general Kevin Casas-Zamora told The Guardian.

Since Trump and other Republicans began claiming without evidence that President Joe Biden’s victory was illegitimate—a lie which likely 2024 presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) repeated as recently as Sunday on CBS News and which has reportedly left one in five election officials facing threats to their safety a year later—disputes regarding electoral outcomes have been on the rise, according to the report.

The claims led hundreds of Trump supporters to violently storm the U.S. Capitol in January, and a national poll taken this month found that a third of Americans still believe Trump was the legitimate winner of the election, including two-thirds of Republican voters.

Beyond the U.S., IDEA International pointed to evidence-free allegations of fraud in Myanmar that were used to justify a bloody coup in October, the rejection of election results by the losing presidential candidate in Peru last summer, and presidents’ questioning of the integrity of election commissions prior to voting in Mexico and Brazil.

“The Global State of Democracy report is not a wakeup call, it’s an alarm bell,” said Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships. “Authoritarianism advances in every corner of the earth. Universal values—the pillars of civilization that protect the most vulnerable—are under threat.”

Report co-author Alexander Hudson also noted the “decline in the quality of freedom of association and assembly during the summer of protests in 2020” in the U.S., with racial justice demonstrations marked by the use of force—in one case, reportedly ordered by the Trump administration—and violent attacks on journalists.

“The United States is a high-performing democracy, and even improved its performance in indicators of impartial administration (corruption and predictable enforcement) in 2020,” Hudson told The Guardian. “However, the declines in civil liberties and checks on government indicate that there are serious problems with the fundamentals of democracy.”

International IDEA’s report comes less than a week after the New York Times published an analysis of data collected by V-Dem, a Swedish research institute focusing on global democracy, and found that the U.S. and many of its allies have shifted significantly away from operating democratically.

The report also comes amid outrage in the U.S. over partisan gerrymanderingvoter suppression laws, and the continued use of the legislative filibuster—which has kept the Democratic Party from passing widely supported voting rights legislation, social spending, and climate action programs even though the party controls the White House and both houses of Congress.

“If there is one key message in this report, it is that this is the time for democracies to be bold, to innovate and revitalize themselves,” Casas-Zamora said in a statement.

According to the Global State of Democracy report, more than one in four people across the globe now live in backsliding democracies, which also include Brazil, India, and Hungary.

“Seventy percent of the population in the world” live in authoritarian states, backsliding democracies, and “hybrid” states, which have “somewhat more open—but still insufficient—space for civil society and the media than authoritarian regimes,” according to the report.

“That tells you that there is something fundamentally serious happening with the quality of democracy” around the world, Casas-Zamora told The Guardian.

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