Is the U.S. No Longer One of the Top 20 Most Democratic Countries in the World?

The research arm of The Economist magazine releases an annual “Democracy Index” ranking the strength of democracy in each country. The U.S. has not been in the top 20 since 2015.

  • Published 12 October 2018
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Claim

The United States has “dropped off” a list of the 20 most democratic countries in the world.

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Origin

A well-shared post on the Facebook page for The Christian Left shows a chart titled “The Best and Worst Countries for Democracy” with a description indicating it demonstrates that the United States has fallen off the top 20 best countries:

The chart was taken from the Economist magazine’s annual Democracy Index report. Although no single body is in charge of officially ranking world democracies, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), “the research and analysis division of The Economist Group,” has issued such a ranking in 2006, 2008, and every year since 2010. The group uses multiple factors to assign each country a single score, which is used to rank countries comparatively by their level of democracy as well as classify them in categories ranging from “full democracy” to “authoritarian regime”:

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Based on their scores on 60 indicators within these categories, each country is then itself classified as one of four types of regime: full democracy; flawed democracy; hybrid regime; and authoritarian regime.

The Facebook post was correct in noting that the United States had “dropped off” the ranking’s top 20. The U.S. had fallen within the top 20 in a majority of these reports (peaking at number 17 in 2006 and 2010), but it dipped into the 21st spot in 2012 and again in the years 2016 and 2017.

More significant than the comparative numerical ranking, however, is the category into which each country is placed. By the EIU’s metrics, the U.S. had been considered a “full democracy” every year until 2016 and 2017, when it was demoted to a “flawed democracy”:

The US fell below the threshold for a “full democracy” in 2016 and is now rated as a “flawed democracy”. The main cause of the US regression was a serious decline in public trust in US institutions in 2016. This year the country’s overall score remained the same, and the US remains in 21st place in the global rankings.

This “Best and Worst Countries for Democracy” chart is, of course, simply one media group’s own assessment and should be regarded in that light.