For the second consecutive year the United States ranks as a “flawed democracy” according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, which annually ranks the health of democracy in nations around the world. The U.S. tied with Italy and trails just behind South Korea in the EIU’s ranking.
The U.S. and Italy — with identical scores of 7.98 — were tied for 21st place among the nations of the world. The cutoff for being ranked as a “full democracy” was a score of 8.00. Twenty nations, mostly European with Scandinavian countries dominating the top of the rankings, made the cut.
The top five, in order, were Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand and Denmark, all with scores well above 9. Unfortunately (if you like democracy), the 19 “full democracies” put together constitute less than five percent of the world’s population.
In the history of these rankings, before last year, the EIU had always included our nation on the list of “full democracies.” As I wrote last year when the U.S. first fell off the “full democracy” list, the decline in our ranking is not fundamentally about the current occupant of the White House. It seems important to clarify that.
Lack of social cohesion
The U.S. scores, which used to be much higher, have been declining since 2006. The chief problem with U.S. democracy, as the EIU scores it, has been a decline in what it calls “social cohesion,” which has been diminishing for years, in part because of the increase in what is often called “polarization,” across partisan and political lines. As the EIU scores democracies, our poor cohesion led to low scores for “Functioning of government: 7.14” and “Political participation: 7.22.”
As I’ve often mentioned, the United States ranks horribly against other democracies for voter turnout, which in an important factor in our poor “participation” number. But the low score for “functioning of government,” which obviously did the most damage to our overall number, reflects the fact that even with one party controlling almost all the levers of government, America borders on unable to enact legislation.
The EIU’s writeup on our democracy said various kinds of polarization, social, political, economic and otherwise, undermine our exercise in self-governance, adding that, “If Mr. Trump is unable to reverse the trend towards increasing social polarization, U.S. democracy will be at greater risk of further deterioration.”
You would need a membership and a password to see the full report. But Business Insider lists the top 21 finishers, and their scores, here.
If it makes you feel any better, almost half the nations of the world (45 percent) ranked as “flawed democracies,” and the U.S./Italy score made them the highest ranked among the flawed.
More than half of all countries (89 out 167) saw their scores decline from the previous year, and only 27 improved their scores.
At the bottom of the spectrum were 52 nations, home to a combined 34 percent of the world’s people, which were as rated “authoritarian” nations.
The worst overall score in the world (1.08) was given to North Korea, ranked 167th and by a wide margin. The others in the bottom five were: 163: Democratic Republic of Congo; 164: Central African Republic; 165: Chad; and 166: Syria.