Democratic backsliding

Quality of democracy in five countries, 2000-2018.

There is a growing concern of democratic backsliding. In a recent article in Democratization, Lührmann et al. (2018) use the Varieties of Democracy-dataset to show that the quality of democracy has been deteriorating in a considerable number of countries over the last ten years. They measure the quality of democracy with an index of liberal democracy, which consists of two elements:

First, there is the Electoral Democracy Index (EDI), the first systematic measure of the de fact existence of all elements of Robert Dahl’s famous articulation of ‘polyarchy’ as electoral democracy. The second component is the Liberal Component Index (LCI), reflecting the liberal tradition, whereby electoral democracy must be supplemented with the rule of law, ensuring respect for civil liberties, with constraints on the executive by the judicary and legislature.

Lührmann et al. 2018: 1322-1323.

While the quality of democracy has improved in countries like Tunisia or Georgia over the last ten years, it has deteriorated in India, Nicaragua or Brazil. All in all, backsliding or “autocratization,” as the authors say, has happened as frequently as democratic improvement. Interestingly, backsliding has taken place in a number of consolidated democracies, too.

To look at this trend more closely, I use the V-Dem data to plot changes over time in five countries between 2000 and 2018 with the R package “gganimate.” It is not surprising that the LDI has decline rather drastically in Turkey and, to a lesser degree, also in Poland and Hungary. The graph captures anotable decline in the United States, though. In contrast, Sweden has not witnessed democratic backsliding.

R code to create the animated plot

# Dataset
Country-Year: V-Dem Core

# Load libraries

# Rename variables
vdem <- rename(vdem, c(“country_name”=”country”,
# Shorten country name to USA
levels(vdem$country)[levels(vdem$country)==”United States of America”] <- “USA”

# Select countries
five <- c(“Sweden”, “Turkey”, “USA”, “Poland”, “Hungary”)

p <- ggplot(data = subset(vdem, subset = country %in% five & year>1999),
aes(x = year, y = libdem, color = country, group=country))+
geom_segment(aes(xend = 2018, yend = libdem), linetype = 2, colour = ‘grey’) +
geom_point(size = 2) +
geom_text(aes(x = 2020, label = country), hjust = 0) +
coord_cartesian(clip = ‘off’)+
labs(y = “Liberal democracy index”, x=NULL, caption=”Data:”)+
theme(legend.position = “none”,
plot.margin = margin(5.5, 40, 5.5, 5.5),
axis.text = element_text(color = “black”),
axis.title.x = element_text(size=10),
plot.caption = element_text(size=8),
panel.background = element_rect(fill = “white”,
colour = “white”, size = 0.3, linetype = “solid”),
panel.grid.major = element_line(size = 0.3, linetype = ‘solid’,
colour = “grey90”))

animate(p, end_pause=10)

Lührmann, Anna; Mechkova, Valeriya; Dahlum, Sirianne; Maxwell, Laura; Olin, Moa; Petrarca, Constanza Sanhueza et al. (2018): State of the world 2017: autocratization and exclusion? In: Democratization 25 (8), S. 1321–1340.

Wickham, Hadley; Grolemund, Garrett (2017): R for data science. Import, tidy, transform, visualize, and model data. Beijing, Boston, Farnham, Sebastopol, Tokyo: O’Reilly.Wickham, Hadley; Grolemund, Garrett (2017): R for data science. Import, tidy, transform, visualize, and model data. Beijing, Boston, Farnham, Sebastopol, Tokyo: O’Reilly.