Staffan Lindberg with a Report on Democracy in the World

Staffan Lindberg

Staffan Lindberg is the Director of the V-Dem Institute, one of the five principal investigators of the Varieties of Democracy Project, and a Professor of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg. He is also a coeditor of the book Why Democracies Develop and Decline along with Michael Coppedge, Amanda B. Edgell, and Carl Henrik Knutsen.

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Democracy dies with the lies. Even that simplest form of democracy, which is that we vote on a politician or we don’t and we vote on another politician depends on the truth. Because if you can lie about what you did in office or lie about what you didn’t do, that sort of vertical accountability breaks down. It becomes meaningless.

Staffan Lindberg

Key Highlights

  • Introduction – 0:46
  • Bright Spots for Democracy – 3:24
  • Autocratization and Democratic Backsliding – 13:20
  • Causes of Democratic Recession – 22:25
  • Criticisms of the Report – 34:56

Podcast Transcript

The last few years I have made sure to do an episode on the state of democracy in the world. Those who follow democracy closely know there are many different assessments on democracy from Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Report to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. This year I reached out to Staffan Lindberg to get an assessment from V-DEM. 

V-DEM stands for Varieties of Democracy. It is the most in-depth examination of democracy available, because it produces six different indices to measure democracy based on hundreds of indicators. Political scientists regularly turn to V-DEM data when they study democracy. Their annual report delivers some of their most interesting findings. But the finding most everyone wants to know is whether democracy is in better or worse shape this year. Unfortunately, the news is pretty bad. Democracy remains in decline as it has for the past few years. 

Staffan Lindberg is the Director of the V-Dem Institute and one of the five principal investigators of the Varieties of Democracy Project. Long time listeners might remember my conversation with Michael Coppedge last year. He’s also associated with the Varieties of Democracy Project and is one of the other principal investigators. 

Staffan and I discuss the most recent report titled “Defiance in the Face of Autocratization.” We discuss some of the positive findings, but also some of their concerns. Staffan also responds to some of the criticisms of the report as well. 

Now, usually this is where I ask for ratings and reviews, but Spotify just launched an interesting feature where it allows listeners to answer a question about the episode. My question for this episode is “What will it take to spark the next democratic wave?” Apple Podcast listeners can answer this question as a review of the episode or you can always give your answer on Twitter or Facebook. The show’s handle is @demparadox. But for now… This is my conversation with Staffan Lindberg…


Staffan Lindberg, welcome to the Democracy Paradox.

Staffan Lindberg

Thank you very much for having me.


Well, Staffan, this is once again a very impressive report. I mean, the report unfortunately continues to show growing autocratization around the world and it’s frightening. But you’ve titled this report, “Defiance in the Face of Autocratization.” It gives it a sense of hope. Why did you feel that this was the right title for this year’s report?

Staffan Lindberg

We were inspired this year by, not only the protests by women and citizens broadly in Iran, but also the eight cases we find where democracies have been derailed, in some cases going into autocracy for one or a few years, but then bouncing back. It used to be only two cases that we knew about. It was South Korea and Ecuador, on two different sides of the globe. Then we did a systematic search this year, looked and found that there are actually these eight cases that we thought, in these sort of dark times of autocratization engulfing large portions of the world, was important to highlight and bring to bear as much evidence as we could find in this short time that we worked with the Democracy Report on these eight cases and what they can teach us about how to stop autocratization and turn it around.


You’ve already mentioned the eight democracies who are bouncing back or the eight countries that “are making rare U-turns, restoring democracy after a period of democratization.” I think that’s how you put it in the report. Tell me a little bit more about what made those countries different and maybe what those other six countries were beyond just South Korea and Ecuador.

Staffan Lindberg

Sure. So, beyond South Korea and Ecuador, we then have Bolivia, Maldives, Moldova, North Macedonia, Slovenia, and Zambia. So, again, different regions of the world. A couple of them are in Europe, well actually three. You have a couple of Latin American cases. You have the Maldives in Asia and South Korea as well. Then Zambia is in Africa. So, it’s not like one region is doing something right. It’s a few countries, but they’re fairly small countries, all of them. I mean, South Korea’s population is sizeable, but still not a large country and not a really populous country and not a big sort of major regional power or anything like that.

But there were five elements that we could see pop out that were prominent in sometimes all cases and sometimes half or more, but seemed to unite them. The first one is really large-scale popular mobilization against an incumbent that was derailing democracy. In South Korea, there were over 2 million people on the streets at the same time, for example. Popular mobilization was pretty important in seven out of these eight cases. Another really important element was the judiciary. A judicial system that stood up against intimidation and what is called sometimes executive aggrandizement taking over and stood up to reverse that trend of autocratization.

We note that was really important in your own country as well with all the claims of the last presidential election being full of fraud. But the judicial system stood up and that was really, really critical, I think, in the case of the United States. We’ve seen that in research as well. There are research findings showing that a strong judiciary that is independent of the executive and can stand up to it is really critical to stand off efforts at derailing democracy. Then there is the opposition, of course. But in many of these countries, it’s not like the United States where you have two countries… two parties and, in a way, two countries, maybe more and more, but two parties.

A lot of countries around the world are multi-party systems with 5, 6, 7, 8 parties. Then, in many of these cases, it was important that the parties united and worked together against the autocratizing incumbent, often coalescing with civil society and working together sometimes for 5, 6, 7 years before they could really turn it around and have a strategy of peaceful engagement. Turning to violence has not characterized any of these cases.

Then fourth, their elections are really important. They are these magnificent events with all this popular mobilization around them and they are really where power is going to be decided upon. Then in a couple of cases, it was an election, but it was also the end of a two-term limit for the executive that was used as critical events to turn things around. Finally, in several cases, international involvement with international democracy support and protection efforts played an important role. So, those are the five elements: large scale popular mobilization; a judiciary that’s independent and stands up; a unified opposition coalescing with civil society and working peacefully; critical elections or other events that can be used as turning points; and then in some cases international engagement and democracy support.


What I find remarkable is that these are countries that Tarek Masoud and Scott Mainwaring might call democracies in hard places. We’re talking about Moldova that has Russian troops in a breakaway province of Transnistria. You’ve got another country, Zambia, that just went through debt default and has been dealing with terrible economic consequences in that country. So, you’ve got these different countries that… I don’t want to portray them as starker than other places of the world. I mean, there’s lots of places of the world with problems, but these are not places where democracy is easy necessarily. So, it’s impressive that these are the places that we’re starting from to see democracies turned around.

Staffan Lindberg

Yeah, I think you’re correct. That goes for a number, not all of these cases. It also includes Maldives or Ecuador, and Bolivia with very challenging economic and I would say also social conditions in the country. So, that also speaks to the fact, I think, that when the people, or a majority of the people, and a majority of the leaders in civil society and parties decide that democracy is really worth hanging on to and fighting for, they can do it even in adverse conditions. It’s not determined, at least by external conditions that have to do with the economy or something else. Naturally, South Korea, Slovenia, may be easier cases in that sense, better economies and so on. But that so many of them are sort of in adverse conditions, if you like, yeah, that’s remarkable.


Yeah, I mean, obviously every country has its own problems, so I don’t want to minimize any of those. But as we look at some of the larger countries that can really shift the tide of a democratic wave like the United States, Brazil… even Poland has an upcoming election this year that with the war in Ukraine, a lot of uncertainty, and the Law and Justice Party being in office for a long time could be a consequential election. Do you foresee a real shift in some of the larger, more consequential countries that could really shift into a possible fourth wave of democratization on the horizon?

Staffan Lindberg

I’m hoping that a country like Brazil with Lula now in the presidency turns around and becomes the ninth bouncing back case here. That would be really important, not only for Latin America and Brazil itself, but for the world. I think Lula has a good track record in his previous term of upholding democracy. We don’t see any backsliding during his previous term in office. So, there are good hopes, I think, and a big portion of the Brazilian citizenry is also, as I read it, tired and wants to do away with Bolsonaro and that kind of politics.

Then Poland is really hard to tell. The EU is putting a lot of pressure finally on Poland with regards to the independence of the judicial system and upholding of civil rights also for women and LGBTI communities and so on. But Poland is also really a strong ally of Ukraine in the war and there have been speculations that that could give them some leeway to get away with things in the EU. We’ll see. But it’s against the backdrop of this worldwide global recession of democracy.

Autocracies like Russia and Putin, I mean, he started autocratization even before he was in power formally. He has derailed whatever little democracy was there long ago. But still with the invasion of Ukraine, he has made it worse. So, there are also a number of autocracies that are getting worse. It’s not only the democracies that fall down, but also these already autocratic regimes that become even more authoritarian.


Are Russia and China, the two countries that are most on your radar as the greatest autocratizers or the most significant autocratizers or are you more concerned about established democracies who are autocratizing over this past year? What’s your biggest concern? What’s your biggest takeaway about autocracy’s greatest gains?

Staffan Lindberg

Not really Russia and China. I mean, China has been way down on all our indices and all our indicators for twenty years and China is so close to the floor that it’s hard for them to go down. We don’t have a basement, so there’s zero on the index and if you’re at like 0.05, there is not much that can happen. Russia is also pretty far down on the democracy index or all the democracy indices, yet they managed this year in 2022 with the invasion of Ukraine to actually slide down statistically significantly more. But those are not the countries… I mean, they’re sort of lost cases in a way, at least in the short term and medium term.

But we’ve been really concerned about some democracies like Brazil. Poland, also the United States under Trump, and longer term, are still worried about the United States because much of the underlying problems, as you know, and contentious issues are still there. When such a large proportion of the population (I think it’s still one third) think that the last elections were stolen, the whole legitimacy of the democratic system is in question. So, I would still worry about the United States, and we have other smaller countries like Mauritius or now lately Greece with a significant undermining of democracy in the last two, three years. If it continues like that, it’s really worrying.

But things also keep getting worse in these countries that some call them hybrid regimes. Take India. We can debate whether it should be called a hybrid regime. We don’t have that in our classification. We have electoral democracies. That’s a minimum level and then electoral autocracies that hold multi-party elections, but either the elections are not free and fair enough or freedom of speech and freedom of the media is not good enough or freedom of association. There are limitations so that it’s not good enough to be called a democracy by our coding criteria. Some call them gray zone countries or hybrid regimes. But the fact of the matter is that countries like India, Hungary, and before that Turkey have been sliding down on democracy quite radically over a long period of time and continue to become worse. That’s really worrying.

Then you have the countries at the bottom. Look at Afghanistan. Even after the Taliban took over and we thought it hit rock bottom, they’ve managed to make it even worse, especially for women. So, we worry about countries on all levels of the scale, except maybe the those that have hit rock bottom, when things are getting worse. When people have fewer freedoms and rights, that’s worrying regardless of which level are at at this point.


So, you’re obviously expressing a lot of worry about the state of democracy and the world and are making clear that there’s a real concern that we’re still deep into this democratic recession. But I remember back in 2017, you co-wrote a paper in the Journal of Democracy called “How Much Democratic Backsliding?” One quote that really stood out to me read, “Democracy is facing challenges across the world, yet alarmist reports of a global demise or crisis of democracy are not warranted.” So, when did you decide it was time to sound the alarm?

Staffan Lindberg

The year after. We wrote that article in conjunction with launching our first democracy report and the title of that first democracy report was “Democracy at dusk?” Our measures were starting to go down, but it wasn’t that pronounced and many changes were not statistically significant, really. We were careful. I mean, at that point, Freedom House had started to drum out the message on their data that democracy was in recession and Larry Diamond had started already back in, what was it, 2009 I think, with an article in Foreign Affairs. But at least he wrote something very early on and then Freedom House started in 2012, I think, with cautioning that things were not developing in the right direction anymore. But at that point, 2016-17, we were still not sure.

But then we did… Actually, it was my former deputy director of the V-Dem Institute and then Assistant Professor Anna Lührmann, who is now Secretary of State with responsibility for Europe in Germany in the German government. So, she’s been recruited to politics, but she and I wrote an article that then eventually came out in 2019 and the title of that article is “A Third Wave of Autocratization is Here and What’s New About it.” We started working on that in 2017. So, that’s when we developed the metrics to measure this that we use in the democracy report and then have sophisticated versions for our academic articles that could really see this evidence of a wave building up and all the democratizing countries just slumping.

That was a revelation for us. Using all the V-Dem data was there and then from that point on, I think around 2017-18, it’s just gotten worse and all our research efforts go into documenting autocratization, but also analyzing why it’s happening, how it can be stopped, and so on and so forth. That’s the big research agenda for us.


So, Freedom House tracks a decline in democracy all the way back to 2005, like a consistent decline in their reports. Now, obviously, they weren’t sounding an alarm that first year because it was very minor, and it was minor for a number of years before concerns began to grow. But that’s a really long time before we get to 2017, 2018 when V-Dem starts to see an obvious autocratic wave. Do you feel like you need to go back or have you gone back through the older data and reassessed some of those ideas or are you still confident that where you saw the autocratic wave beginning to happen is really where it began?

Staffan Lindberg

You know, in that article, when we developed new metrics to assess whether autocratization was happening and whether there was a wave building, when we used the V-Dem data and tracked that back in time, we could actually date the beginning of this wave to the mid-1990s. Putin in Russia and then Chavez in Venezuela sort of kicked it off there 96 to 98. That’s where we see the first increase in the number of countries that go into a statistically significant worsening of the levels of democracy. At the same time, the number of countries in democratization start to fall down.

So, in 96 there were 71 countries in the world that were democratizing at the same time. 71! That’s more than one third. It’s incredible. In just a few years, that was down to 40 in around 2000 and then fell down further. Now it’s 14. So, it’s like just a slumping number of countries moving in the right direction. In that same time period, we see the number of countries autocratizing gradually go up, but maybe we can be a little bit excused as scientists that in our metrics, the big increase in the number of countries autocratizing starts around 2015. From that point, the numbers go up dramatically. Then it was still around 15 and then quickly it moved up to 30 and now 42.

So, it’s really in the last seven years or so that that development has been really dramatically accelerating or escalating at least and become very palpable. But it’s also true that we failed as scientists to have metrics in place to discover this. We could have discovered it earlier if we had developed metrics for it, but we didn’t develop metrics until we thought we saw it anyway and wanted to measure it.


What do you think the cause of this is? It’s one thing to identify it. It’s one thing to acknowledge that it’s there. It’s another thing to start thinking through solutions and it’s so hard to think of solutions without understanding causes. What do you think the underlying cause for a third wave of autocratizztion really is?

Staffan Lindberg

That’s… What is it called? A $1 billion question or something like that these days. But yeah, on the last point, it’s important to recognize that in medicine or in natural sciences, if we know the cause and effect, we’ll remove the cause and then we won’t have the effect. So, that’s the natural way for us to think. But in human societies, you can have a cause that leads to an effect, but the remedy may be something else. It doesn’t necessarily mean removing the cause. So, we don’t have a scientific evidence-based answer to sort of explain everything. But let me note a couple of empirical regularities here that at least I think are good candidates.

So, first of all, we can note that in many countries over the last 20 years that have autocratized or are right now autocratizing, it’s driven by right-wing extremist parties and leaders that are driving a nationalist reactionary agenda. Nationalist in the sense of glorifying the nation and who we are and pointing back and therefore being reactionary to some often imaginary and not real period where the country and the nation was glorious. It comes in different versions. There’s one narrative that Trump and parts of the Republican Party still drive in the United States. There’s a very different narrative about that sort of imperialist nationalism in Putin’s Russia and a different narrative about Hindu Nationalism and who we are in Modi’s India or the Turkish Muslim Nationalist reactionary narrative in Turkey.

They often ally themselves with whatever religion is there. So, one of the first things Putin did was to cozy up with the Russian Orthodox Church and the patriarch there. Erdoğan suddenly became a very staunch Muslim. Orbán in Hungary used to be a completely secular left-wing guy, then became a right-wing nationalist and Christian. So, we see that driving and they often support each other. You know, Putin supported right-wing extremist parties and groups all over Europe, interfering with the American elections, with the Brexit election and French elections and ties to Le Pen. That’s well-documented and it cuts in many ways.

What’s sort of dangerous about that is that we have a historical, maybe not lesson or exact analogy, but the 1930s was a period of nationalist reactionary narratives of this kind. They can be very dangerous when you start to point to political enemies as enemies of the nation, of our way of life, because that’s a war metaphor. What do you do with enemies? Well, derail their civil liberties, obviously, if need be. Then, in the extreme, throw them into jail or kill them. It’s a very dangerous, slippery slope and that makes me worry a lot about what is following in wake of this autocratization. We see a lot more violence in places like India and we also see the extreme version with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine with his imperialist nationalist ambitions. So, that’s worrying.

Now this development is not coming out of nowhere. The fact that it’s global and occurs in such different contexts suggests that also there are some global forces undergirding that development. Again, we don’t have the empirical evidence to prove all of this, but I think it’s food for thought and at least makes intuitive sense for me. We know that Putin, as I said, is behind much of this in the former Soviet republics in intervening in many and done everything he can to stir this polarization that can empower right-wing extremists.

Then I think we have to look much more into… and I know there are lots of research efforts going into what is the role of increasing economic inequalities that translate into socially inequalities, that translates into people fearing the future, because that fear is a very, very dangerous force that we know from the 1930s that includes fear for the future and fear for the other that’s going to come and take whatever your children and family deserve to have in the future can be turned into ugly things. That can make people turn more easily to sort of, let’s just say, big strong men that come and say, ‘I’m going to save you. I have the solutions.’ That’s dangerous for democracy.


So, you gave a lot of explanations. Two of them that you mentioned were ones that I feel like people are already trying to quantify like economic inequality. There’s lots of ways to try to measure that. For political polarization there’s political scientists who find ways to measure that, although it’s much harder than something like economic inequality. But the one that you started with is something that I’m not sure that you really can measure. It’s almost more of a sense of regime philosophy than it is anything else, a sense of nationalism, the sense of what is the purpose behind our government. V-DEM does an incredible job of breaking down different forms of democracy. I mean, V-DEM stands for Varieties of Democracy, meaning that there’s different ways to think about democracy and to analyze it and you have so many different indicators.

But one that’s not really utilized because it’s not easily quantifiable is this idea of the philosophy behind the regime. I find that interesting because I think that in a lot of ways, that’s one of the reasons why we’ve had a wave of democratization is because countries were adopting this philosophy of liberalism and the idea of democracy. But even the United States has begun to move away from that and that’s part of the reason why we’re seeing more towards autocratization. I mean, do you feel like that’s one of the weaknesses of the V-DEM approach is the fact that it’s difficult to really integrate in the regime philosophy into these different measures?

Staffan Lindberg

Yeah, that’s one thing we struggled with when sort of designing Varieties of Democracy. We wanted to be able to measure that as well, and especially to the extent to which they are sort of anti-democratic philosophies, but found it outside of the bounds of what we could do, at least at the time. And now we’re measuring 500 indicators across 13 areas, but we’re still not measuring that, so there’s plenty of room for somebody to do that. We’ve done a little bit of effort in that direction in a separate sub-project that’s called Varieties of Parties. In that measurement project, we code individual political parties in essentially all the countries of the world from 1970 and onwards and then created indicators for what many people perhaps associate with our friends and colleagues, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, who wrote that book, How Democracies Die.

They reached back to another famous political scientist, Juan Linz, and what he called litmus test indicators. Litmus tests for leaders who would break down democracy if they came into power. So, we took those litmus test indicators from the rhetoric and the speech they use and measured that for parties and it turns out that predicts pretty well which parties, if they come into government, breakdown democracy as Juan Linz said back in 1979. On that score, parties like AKP in Turkey sort of go up on that score well before they come into power and then they come into power and liberal democracy goes out of the window. But it’s not really part of the regular V-DEM data set and data collection.

So, it really should be done better, I think, because it’s with selling those narratives and convincing people about those narratives that really gives them power. Many of them are elected in democratic elections. Right? In the United States, Trump was also elected in a relatively democratic election, even by European standards, if I can tease you. But Erdoğan was also elected in democratic elections, Orbán in Hungary, Modi in India, even to some extent Putin in Russia, although that was a little less democratic. But still it wasn’t a given. So, that’s a problem. And I think here we have a big challenge.

The amount of disinformation that people are exposed to, the possibility that an unregulated freedom of speech in social media gives this enormous possibility and platform for non-democratic forces to use freedom of speech to kill it and flood social media with conspiracy theories, disinformation, fake news, alternative facts, whatever you want to call it, that didn’t used to be there. The internet was this reform. It was self-created, not decided upon. But it was this enormous reform. In the beginning, everybody was happy. Like this will give everybody the same possibility of exercising freedom of speech and be heard. It will put things on the agenda and the ordinary person on the street will say what they think. Great.

But it then turned out to be this double-edged sword where, yeah, it could be used for all those good purposes, but could also be used for bad purposes. It is being used for bad purposes and now evidence shows that falsehoods spread three times faster into more people than truth. Whereas with the old media, it used to be that it was regulated to some extent and there was some truth requirement like you could not just publish outright falsehoods and spread conspiracy theories as you wanted. I think we have to find ways to regulate and filter freedom of speech in order to save it.

Democracy dies with the lies. Even that simplest form of democracy, which is that we vote on a politician or we don’t and we vote on another politician depends on the truth. Because if you can lie about what you did in office or lie about what you didn’t do, that sort of vertical accountability breaks down. It becomes meaningless. You don’t vote on what the person did, if they can lie about it. You vote on a lie. That’s not holding somebody accountable for being in office. They can say, ‘I never promised to do that.’ But they did. Or I promised to do that and they didn’t. Well, it becomes meaningless to vote. So, even the core institution, even that most simple institutional democracy, which is voting in elections becomes meaningless if we as citizens are exposed to and believe in what’s untrue.


I want to step over to some of the criticisms in the recent report and just briefly touch on that. They really center around the classification of countries either as electoral democracies or electoral autocracies. The one I’d like to ask about is the one that labels Ukraine as an electoral autocracy. I’m familiar with the reason for saying that Ukraine’s democracy is not as consolidated or that it’s even in an in between state. I actually wrote a blog post about it kind of asking ourselves how democratic is Ukraine.

But after I wrote that post, I noticed that a lot of people were misusing the title as if I was saying that Ukraine wasn’t democratic and using it as propaganda. People weren’t reading the post. They were just reading the headline. Are you concerned at all that some people will use this as a reason to bring about propaganda against Ukraine, because you’ve called it and labeled it as an electoral autocracy?

Staffan Lindberg

Yeah, you can always have that concern. We have that concern with Ukraine and other countries. But as social scientists, we could just report what the data said. Now on Ukraine, of course, there’s a problem in explaining to Americans or to Europeans how their tax money going into supporting Ukraine. ‘We thought we were defending a democracy here.’ That’s true in the sense that Ukraine has been a democracy and was moving towards becoming more of a democracy. Then things were turned around and with the war, there’s lots of uncertainty with our measurements about what’s actually at stake.

Let me make one more example. One third of the countries is under Russian occupation. There is no democracy there. So, the country experts that we use to collect data on this – should they downgrade it by one third because there you don’t have democracy or is it enough that you have democracy in Kiev, in the capital? We faced that with coding other countries that have been in war or foreign occupation before. That makes it tricky. Then as a matter of fact, Ukraine has martial law. There are lots of restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of the media in reporting on the war. That’s natural and maybe justified by the war, but nonetheless are restrictions on democratic rights.

I spoke to three Ukrainian parliamentarians from different parties this last Friday and they had no problem with our downgrading of Ukraine because of the war. We’re in full agreement with the areas that I pointed to that have been more constrained and therefore they cannot fully live up to be called a democracy. Those are parliamentarians in Ukraine. Now, there is no doubt, I think, the vast majority of Ukrainian parliamentarians and other politicians and the Ukrainian people want to be a democracy and they want to have their democracy back and grow it further. In my own personal judgment in terms of whether we are doing a good thing in supporting Ukraine? Yes we are and yes we are defending democracy, because they want to be a high quality democracy and hopefully they can win this war and then prove that.


One of the high-level findings of the report is that the level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2022 is down to 1986 levels. That’s really striking, because it’s before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the democratization of South Korea and Taiwan, even before the democratization of Chile. Many people have seen that as a little bit of an overstatement, including Tom Carothers from Carnegie, who actually spoke at the launch of the V-DEM report. Explain to me what that means and why you feel that democracies is at 1986 levels.

Staffan Lindberg

Well, if you don’t mind adjusting what you just said. I don’t feel that it’s back to 1986 levels. It’s what the data says, so I’m just reporting the data. There is also an important qualification that you made very clear here in the beginning in terms of the average global citizen. So, what it means is that we take the average level of democracy in countries and adjust it at the global level. We adjust the global average based on population size. So, obviously a country like India with 1.4 billion people matters a lot more when it goes down in India than in a country like Seychelles with 90,000 people.

So, what it means is it really ties to what we talked about before. A lot of large countries with large populations are moving backwards on democracy. So, I think that makes sense. I mean, Tom Carothers and others have their own view. But if we talk about how much democracy is there in the world, I don’t think that improvements in Seychelles out there in the Indian Ocean can really compensate for derailment of democracy for 1.4 billion people in India.  But if you take straight country averages, you say, ‘Oh, those 90,000 people, they weigh as much as the 1.4 billion people.’ I think that can be misleading in itself. After all, democracy is rule by the people, so it matters how many people are affected. That’s sort of the logic here.

So, in that sense, at the global level, the data says we are back to 1986 before the end of the Cold War. Of course, it’s much better in the Czech Republic than it was in Czechoslovakia and the same for Slovakia. But it’s a lot worse in Uzbekistan, for example, and a lot worse in India and other places. So, at the global level, you have to think that some countries may be better and some are worse off, but on average for the average world citizen or the share of the world that enjoy a certain level of democracy, we are back to before the end of the Cold War


Staffan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. This is such an impressive report and it’s not just the report. I mean, we’ve been talking about the executive summary, but the data that goes into this is just mind blowing. So, thank you so much for your team putting this together and showcasing this to the world. Thank you so much for your organization, Varieties of Democracy. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk.

Staffan Lindberg

Thank you, Justin, for having me and let me say also thank you to the whole V-DEM International team that have built up this venture and also the team here at the institute, of course, that are working behind the scenes and don’t get to talk to interesting people like you, Justin. They are really doing it.

Key Links

Why Democracies Develop and Decline edited by Michael Coppedge, Amanda B. Edgell, Carl Henrik Knutsen, and Staffan Lindberg

Learn more about V-DEM

A Third Wave of Autocratization is Here: What is New About it?” in Democratization by Anna Lührmann and Staffan Lindberg

Democracy Paradox Podcast

Michael Coppedge on Why Democracies Emerge, Why They Decline, and Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem)

Sarah Repucci from Freedom House with an Update on Freedom in the World

More Episodes from the Podcast

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Democracy Group

Apes of the State created all Music

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