Electoral Democracy (Polyarchy)

By Milene Meneghetti Bruhn June 10, 2021 Weekly Graphs

This animated graph shows the evolution of electoral democracy (i.e. polyarchy) worldwide from 1900 to 2020. Yellow indicates a high (1) level of democracy, whereas the blue indicates a low (0) levels of electoral democracy. Electoral democracy means that the ruler is responsive to citizens. This is achieved when politicians compete for the electorate’s approval and suffrage is extensive; political and civil society organizations can operate freely; elections are clean and not marred by fraud or systematic irregularities; and elections affect the composition of the chief executive of the country. Moreover, electoral democracy requires essential freedom of expression and an independent media capable of presenting alternative views on matters of political relevance.  

The animation helps visualize trends in democratization and autocratization during the 20th century, including Samuel Huntington’ “three waves” of democratization. The first two decades of the 20th century were marked by democratic improvements in many countries of the global north, including Canada, Great Britain, France and Italy, and Germany under the Weimar Republic.  However, the rise of fascism during the interwar period brought about a wave of autocratization.  

During the second wave of democratization, which lasted between 1945 and the early 1960s, countries that faced defeat during World War II, including Japan, Germany, and Italy became democratic. Many states that became independent during that period also democratized, including India and Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, a series of military coups in South America, however, began another process of autocratization which endured for nearly two decades. 

In the 1970s, a third wave of democratization began with the fall of authoritarian regimes, first in the Iberian Peninsula and then in Latin America. These movements paved the way for further transitions in many countries of the global south, as the figure shows. Global levels of democracy have plateaued in the last decade, and we are beginning to see worrying signs of democratic reversals. The graph shows that countries as diverse as Brazil, Hungary, and India exhibit recently declining levels of electoral democracy. 

 This animated map was created by V-Dem Principal Investigator Michael Coppedge.

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