Eroding democracies and increasing support for authoritarian values: Democracy is facing severe issues on a global scale. International IDEA's Seema Shah wants to support processes that improve the situation – by offering a tool that gives monthly updates on the state of democracies in 173 countries.
International IDEA provides research on comparative knowledge and experiences with democracy on a global scale. What are the most significant developments that democracies are facing right now?
Seema Shah: Our last report in November 2022 showed a very worrying decline in democracies around the globe. During the last decade there have been drastic changes in the world we live in: For example, a renewed threat of nuclear warfare, the climate disaster or protest movements all over the world showing that people are sick of dealing with long standing unresolved inequalities. But according to our data democracy has not kept up with those developments: We measure 116 indicators across five main axes, including fundamental rights, checks on governments, impartial administration and participatory engagement.
In 2021 at least one of our measures dropped significantly enough to be classified as democratically eroding. There were 52 countries, a decade ago this was only true for 12 countries – we’re talking about an increase of more than 300% of eroding democracies. And what makes things worse is that at the same time we face an increase in support for authoritarian values. According to the World Values Survey, majorities of people think it’s good to have strong leaders who don’t have to bother with parliament or elections. That was not the case a few years ago.
International IDEA is launching the Democracy Tracker, a tool that provides data on the state of different democracies worldwide: What is the idea behind that tracker?
The Democracy Tracker provides monthly updates on the state of democracy at the country level of all 173 countries we cover. Therefore, it specifically shows events that have the potential to change the status quo of democracy in a country and explains how it affects specific aspects of democracy. It makes it easier for policymakers to make targeted decisions or for actors such as civil society organizations to support their advocacy campaigns, for example by tracking patterns on issues like human rights in their countries.
"We make it easier for policymakers to make targeted decisions."
How does the tracker provide its users with this information?
Each month our team at International IDEA analyzes data from a wide variety of sources using tools like Nexus News Desk, a subscription based service, and GDELT, which scrape and search media reports, expert organization reports and UN reports. Some of the events we decide to put on the tracker are events people have already seen on the news like the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. But the events that make the tracker most helpful are country level events that you probably would not hear about on the outside. For example, a couple of months ago the Supreme Court in Sri Lanka ordered the former president to pay millions in compensations to families of victims of the bombings in 2019. It was the first time the courts acknowledged government culpability.
Seema Shah holds a keynote speech on the Robert Bosch Foundation's event "On the future of democracy in Germany and Europe" in Berlin.
How can tools such as the Democracy Tracker support processes that aim to improve the state of democracies?
It’s impossible for any person or organization to keep tabs on what's happening all over the world at all times. Tools like the Democracy Tracker are a small step towards making that job easier. When you have a government or an organization that wants to support democracy, we provide the conceptual framework to define democracy and break it into understandable categories. And now that democracy is so much more of an international focus, we think tools like this, which take the information and make it as easily accessible as possible, will be key to figuring out what kinds of new things we need to do to strengthen democracy going forward.
In 2021 US President Biden held the first Summit for Democracy to focus on the situation. What impact did it have on the development of democracies around the world?
It focused the world’s attention on the issue of democracy. And that allows renewed funding for democratization efforts as well as critical reflection both within countries and outside of their borders. It also resulted in numerous partnerships, joint projects and analysis. International IDEA for example has launched the Global Democracy Coalition which brings together hundreds of organizations from around the world to talk about the issues the summit has prioritized. We want to take the energy from the summit and develop things further.
How does the Democracy Tracker support the 2nd Summit for Democracy which will be held in March 2023?
First it can help set the agenda at the global level, because it helps you see patterns over time so you can see what should be prioritized. One thing that's clear from the data already is that freedom of expression is a really very significant problem in all regions. Secondly it supports organizations and governments to zoom in on issues that are important to their agenda from the first summit, for example by searching any events on gender equality over the last year. And finally it can help reflect on some of the most serious occurrences that have shaped the context since the last summer. The tracker can help going forward.