Pandemic Backsliding

Emergency provisions - such as the ones in place in many countries during the current Covid-19 crisis - enable states to temporarily limit personal freedoms and checks and balances to react effectively in situations of crisis. However, previous research shows that some leaders abuse such tools to foster more permanent autocratization by (a) imposing measures that are disproportionate to the severity of crises and (b) keeping emergency provisions in place once the factual situation improves (see Lührmann and Rooney, 2020). How can states effectively respond to crises without undermining democratic standards, freedom and human rights? 

The Pandemic Backsliding Project aims to track state responses to the Covid-19 pandemic as illustrative of the varieties of emergency measures and their execution, addressing how these decisions affect short- and long-term prospects for the political regime and democracy. Driven by the very real risk that the Covid-19 pandemic will be abused and contribute to further autocratization, our project addresses the following questions: Which countries enacted what type of emergency provisions? To what extent were civil liberties and political institutions that provided constraints on executive power undermined or even suspended? Did the measures meet the UN standards of being “proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory”? Which countries went back to the status quo after the end of the crisis and which did not do so? 

Our pilot study - The Pandemic Backsliding Risk Index - provides a first overview of the Covid-19 related risks in most countries and territories. To construct the Pandemic Backsliding Risk Index, we utilized the V-Dem network to collect data on Covid-19 responses by governments in 142 countries, combining this with existing V-Dem data on democracy and freedom. 

According to our data, 48 countries (red) have a high risk of pandemic backsliding and 34 others (orange) are at medium risk (Figure 1). Another 25 countries (black) are already closed autocracies, limiting the space for further substantial backsliding. The good news: addressing Covid-19 is possible while safeguarding democratic institutions. 47 governments (green) have introduced emergency measures that are not likely to pose a threat to democratic standards in the long-run.

In this Policy Brief, we explain the findings and the index more in detail. Here, you find the  data (CSV) (336.9 KB) and  Codebook (170.0 KB)

Figure 1. The Pandemic Backsliding Risk Index (April 2020)

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