How do you define a democracy? A quick Google search gives me the definition, “A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” Sounds easy enough. Of course, it isn’t. Every country in the world fits somewhere on a Democratic spectrum, but telling where on this spectrum a country is can be challenging.
Most countries in the world these days, besides a few oddballs clinging onto the 20th century (such as China, North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, etc) have regular multi-party elections. Most countries allow universal suffrage, with even the Gulf monarchies slowly moving towards giving women the vote. So does this mean that nearly every country in the world is democratic? Unfortunately, no. Many countries have blatantly rigged elections to keep the ruling elites in power, while others use more furtive methods such as domination of the media and gerrymandering voting districts. This makes dividing the world into ‘democracies’ and ‘dictatorships’ very hard to do.
There are some obvious countries to throw into each category. The aforementioned one-party states are clearly not democratic, while on the other hand many countries in Europe and the Americas are bastions of freedom throughout the world (to varying successes) and would surely land on the ‘democracy’ pile. But then there are countries where power seems to have found a crevice between the people and the rulers, where power is sometimes in the hands of one party or ruler in what appears to be a democratic system, or where even the entrenched rulers can be voted out democratically. Examples of countries like this would be Venezuela, Ukraine and Egypt, among others.
So how do you map democracy? Here is my attempt:
(Black countries are those I consider dictatorships; the others democracies).
USA-based pro-democracy group ‘Freedom House’ has a bleaker map:
Notice many discrepancies between the two. Going for the professional organisation which has conducted research may be the best idea. This map by the Economic Intelligence Unit is a good indicator of the complexities involved in defining a democracy, throwing in phrases like ‘flawed democracy’ and ‘semi-dictatorship’:
So, whichever measure you choose to use for defining a democracy, here is roughly the state of play in the world today. One thing we can be sure of is that the proportion of democracies in the world have grown massively since the Second World War, particularly following the Fall of Communism in 1989. This graph shows shifting global trends since 1945:
(which also complicates things further by introducing the term ‘anocracies’ for these ‘semi-democratic’ countries).
The rise of democracies seems to have faltered in recent years, despite movements towards freedom in many countries and in the wake of the Arab Uprisings. But the trend does appear to be moving in favour of democracies, with countries such as North Korea appearing increasingly bizarre and existing in the wrong century. I believe the 21st century will be, for the first time in human history, an era of democratic rule throughout nearly the whole world.