Thursday 27 April 2017

Is there cause to worry about an ebbing of the democratic tide?

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager's visit to the Oireachtas Committee this week highlighted some of the weaknesses in our democracy Photo: Tom Burke
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager's visit to the Oireachtas Committee this week highlighted some of the weaknesses in our democracy Photo: Tom Burke
Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien

Is democracy going the same way communism went a quarter of a century ago? Are people in the free world losing faith in the elected representatives who have governed them for decades? Are the institutions and structures of democracy decaying before our eyes?

Last week my former colleagues at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in London generated quite a stir when they declared that the US was no longer among the most democratic countries in the world. Although wrongly interpreted by some as an indictment of the new president, the downgrading of the US to "flawed democracy" status had nothing to do with Donald Trump. Instead, it relates to a pattern that has been observed for some time. That pattern shows an erosion of faith in democracy among American voters over decades and declining trust in politicians and political institutions.

The EIU's index of global democracy, which measures five aspects of open government across 167 countries, has been published on an annual basis for a decade. Over that time Joan Hoey, who leads the Democracy Index project, says that there has been a consistent, if not dramatic trend, as more countries record lower scores for the quality of their democracies than the number experiencing improvements. Others have called this trend a global "democratic recession".

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