Polarization – A Global Threat to Democracy?

By Lukas Bernhard March 2, 2020 Weekly Graphs

In a recent article in the Journal of Democracy, Milan Svolik argues that even though ordinary people may support democracy, in highly polarized countries they are willing to “trade off democratic principles for partisan interests”. In this week’s graph, we use the V-Dem data to investigate links between polarization and democratic erosion.

The first graph illustrates recent democratic erosion in five countries: Hungary, India, Poland, Turkey, and the United States using V-Dem’s Liberal Democracy Index. This index emphasizes, “the importance of protecting individual and minority rights against the tyranny of the state and the tyranny of the majority”. During the past two decades, the quality of liberal democracy has declined in all five cases. This trend is most pronounced for Turkey and India.

Graph 1_Liberal Democracy.png

The second graph uses the V-Dem polarization of society indicator to illustrate how the democratic decline in these five cases coincides with increasing polarization. This variable estimates divides in society on major political issues, ranging from 0 to 4, with lower scores implying higher polarization.

Recent democratic declines in the five selected countries coincide with the election of political leaders who have been accused of taking authoritarian stances and fostering polarization. The second graph shows this to be the case with polarization becoming more severe during the last years. Turkey shows the greatest increase in polarization since 2007, when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected for his second term as Prime Minister. Thus, in line with Svolik’s recent argument, the two graphs show a negative link between polarization of society and liberal democracy.

Graph 2_Polarization.jpeg

To learn more about V-Dem indicators and our online analysis tools, visit www.v-dem.net. Also see V-Dem’s Democracy Report 2019 on “Toxic Polarization”.

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