V-Dem 2024 Democracy Report

Anna Triponel

March 15, 2024
Our key takeaway: If a country is operating in a democracy, it is easer to operate in a rights-respecting way: workers are more used to speaking up freely without fear of retaliation, there are civil society organisations operating and shining the light on issues, and governments play their part in ensuring a rights-respecting enabling environment. The less democratic the country, the harder it is for companies to respect human rights in practice. So the recently released V-Dem report matters for companies: we are back to 1985 levels of democracy. 71% of the world’s population – that is 5.7 billion people – live in autocracies. (Autocracies are regimes that do not hold free and fair elections, and do not provide sufficient levels of fundamental democratic components such as freedom of expression and freedom of association.) We have the most people (44% - 3.5 billion people) living in electoral autocracies, which are autocracies where elections are held, but without the presence of other fundamental democratic components. Only 29% of the world’s population – 2.3 billion people – live in liberal and electoral democracies. This year will be key to democracies ahead since 60 countries are holding national elections, which can in turn push countries more toward one side of the spectrum, or another. The glimmer of hope is that the V-Dem Institute highlights a possible shift happening away from electoral autocracies toward electoral democracies. Even if there are more people (population-wise) living in electoral autocracies, there are more countries (counting each country equally) that are in a state of electoral democracy. In fact, electoral democracies outnumber electoral autocracies and are the most common regime type for the third year in a row. If we compare autocracy numbers and democracy numbers on a country rather than population basis, we have 91 democracies and 88 autocracies. Note to companies: take a look to see whether the countries you are sourcing from are autocratizing, and take the time to think about what you - alongside others - can do to reverse the trend at this critical moment in time for democracy. 

Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute published its Democracy Report 2024: Democracy Winning and Losing at the Ballot (March 2024). V-Dem publishes the largest global dataset on democracy every year - relying on over 31 million data points for 202 countries from 1789 to 2023. We use a different format this week of 2024 democracy report to highlight the key points from this report:

  • What is the state of democracy in the world? We are back to 1985 levels of democracy: “The level of democracy enjoyed by the average person in the world in 2023 is down to 1985-levels.” The V-Dem Institute distinguishes between autocracies and democracies, depending on whether multiparty elections for the executive are held and whether they are free and fair, as well as the level of fundamental democratic components available in the country (e.g. freedom of expression, freedom of association). There are two types of autocracies. A closed autocracy does not hold multiparty elections for the executive, and there are no fundamental democratic components in the country. In an electoral autocracy, there are multiparty elections for the executive, but insufficient levels of the fundamental requisites of a democracy. Then there are two types of democracies. An electoral democracy benefits from multiparty elections for the executive which are free and fair, and there are satisfactory degrees of suffrage, freedom of expression, freedom of association. A liberal democracy goes beyond and also benefits from judicial and legislative constraints on the executive along with the protection of civil liberties and equality before the law. Democratizing states means that a country is making moves towards more democracy, whereas autocratizing states means a country is moving in the opposite direction. V-Dem finds that the world is almost evenly divided between 91 democracies and 88 autocracies. However, when we factor in populations, we have a different picture: “71% of the world’s population – 5.7 billion people – live in autocracies – an increase from 48% ten years ago.” Specifically, “[e]lectoral autocracies have by far the most people – 44% of the world’s population, or 3.5 billion people”, with only “29% of the world’s population – 2.3 billion people – liv[ing] in liberal and electoral democracies.”
  • What is the trend? Autocratization. Backsliding (autocratization) is happening in 42 countries (representing 2.8 billion people, the equivalent of 35% of the world’s population). Specifically, “India, with 18% of the world’s population, accounts for about half of the population living in autocratizing countries.” There are also countries that are democratizing. The report highlight that “7 out of 9 ‘stand-alone’ democratizers have transitioned away from autocracy”, three of which have restored their initial levels of democracy. There are 60 countries holding national elections this year. Of these, “31 are worsening on their democracy levels, while only 3 are improving.” This year will be key to democracy, since “[e]lections are ‘critical events’ that can either trigger democratization, enable autocratization, or aid stabilization of autocratic regimes.” The report signals a “possible shift” away from electoral autocracies dominating as the most common regime type in the world. “Electoral democracies not only outnumber electoral autocracies making it the most common regime type for the third year in a row, but in 2023, their numbers also repeated the record of 59 set in 2021. While there are not many positive signs for democracy in the world today, this may be one to take note of” (even if this data point also captures liberal democracies backsliding).
  • Where are individual countries? The report highlights that “[l]arge countries with big populations and large economies such as India, Mexico, The Philippines, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, and Türkiye have declined significantly on democracy.” This contrasts with those countries that are advancing on democracy, which “are typically small countries with lesser populations such as The Seychelles, Timor-Leste, and Lesotho.” This group that is democratizing now also includes Brazil, which is the most populated country in the region (216 million citizens). Countries in Eastern Europe are also autocratising: “Belarus and Russia are two prominent examples of post-Soviet consolidation of autocracy in the region” and “Hungary and Serbia are also driving this trend in recent years, as well as Croatia and Romania.” There have been improvements in some less populated countries: Kosovo, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. “The level of democracy is in steep decline also in South and Central Asia” with “recent deteriorations of democracy in India with 1.4 billion citizens.” In Sub-Saharan Africa, there have been deteriorations over the past five years, “in part due to coups d’état in Gabon and Niger in 2023 and military takeovers in five other countries in the region since 2020 – Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Sudan, and Chad.” When it comes to other regions: “East Asia and the Pacific has fluctuated around the same level of democracy over the past two decades. The Middle East and North Africa has gradually declined since the Arab Spring. Western Europe and North America has equally been on a slow but steady decline since around 2010.”

You may also be interested in

This week’s latest resources, articles and summaries.