More and more democracies are creeping towards dictatorships


A wave of decline in democratic rule is in progress, with more and more countries becoming less democratic and more autocratic. This has been shown by a new study from the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg.

Brazil, Hungary, India, Poland, and Turkey are examples of countries that are currently experiencing a decline in democracy or what the researchers call autocratization – a shift in the direction of dictatorship.

“More democracies than ever before are experiencing a decline in democratic qualities, and 60 of the 75 democracies that at some point have gone through a process of autocratization have ultimately become dictatorships,” says Anna Lührmann, Associate Senior Lecturer.

Together with Professor Staffan I. Lindberg, she has completed the first study of all the periods of autocratization from 1900 until the present day. The study is based on data from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project, the world’s largest database for research covering democracy and democratic trends. The database contains 450 indicators for democracy and presents over 50 indices on everything from freedom of expression and freedom of choice to the independence of the judicial system and the freedom of the press and freedoms in civil society.

A third wave of autocratization

According to the study, in 2017, 22 countries demonstrated tendencies indicative of democracy in decline. When compared with other periods, this means that we are now experiencing a third wave of autocratization in modern times.

What is unique about the decline of democracy today is that the process is slow and that it is happening unobtrusively. The military coups and hasty impositions of one-party states seen in previous decades have been replaced by protracted political manoeuvres. In 33 of 47 episodes of autocratization in countries where democracy has been in decline since 1994, it has been democratically elected politicians who have gradually undermined democratic rule.

“They undermine democracy by gradually taking over power over the media and civil society and by making it more difficult to conduct free and fair elections for example. Corruption can be one means used to do this, but it is far from the only one. They often also use threats of violence and sham legal processes, such as legislating against certain organisations,” says Professor Staffan I. Lindberg.



For more information

The study has been published in the journal Democratization.
Anna Lührmann and Staffan I. Lindberg (2019). A third wave of autocratization is here: what is new about it? Lin to article: