The Economist released an intriguing study on democracy throughout the world late last month.
The Democracy index is based on the view that measures of democracy that reflect the state of political freedoms and civil liberties are not thick enough. They do not encompass sufficiently or at all some features that determine how substantive democracy is or its quality. Freedom is an essential component of democracy, but not sufficient. In existing measures, the elements of political participation and functioning of government are taken into account only in a marginal way.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The condition of having free and fair competitive elections, and satisfying related aspects of political freedom, is clearly the basic requirement of all definitions.
This index provides a snapshot of the current state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories. ... Although almost half of the world’s countries can be considered to be democracies, the number of “full democracies” is relatively low (only 28). Almost twice as many (54) are rated as “flawed democracies”. Of the remaining 85 states, 55 are authoritarian and 30 are considered to be “hybrid regimes”.
More than half of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only some 13% reside in full democracies. Despite the advances in democracy in recent decades, almost 40% of the world’s population still lives under authoritarian rule (with a large share of these being, of course, in China).
Sweden's number one with a score of 9.88 (10 being most democratic, 1 being least), whereas North Korea comes in at 167 with the lowest ranking of 1.03. North America and Western Europe (the sub-region of Northern Europe ranks the best) dominate the top of the table; the whole of Africa along with the Middle East and Central Asia hold many of the least democratic nations. Canada's in 9th place, the United States is ranked 17, the United Kingdom 23, and France 24.
Japan's tied for 20 at 8.15. In the "flawed" section, Italy ranks 34 with a score of 7.73 followed by India scoring 7.68; Brazil's 42, Mexico's 53, Israel's 47, Palestine's 79. "Hybrid" Turkey's 88 with a score of 5.70, Russia is at 102 scoring 5.02. Pakistan is in the all-out "authoritarian" category ranked 113, China's 138 with a score of 2.97, and Saudi Arabia's 159. Iraq is a "hybrid" government with a score of 4.01. It's ranked 112, with a 0 in "functioning of government" (Chad was the only other state to get a zero in that area).
What's interesting is that out of all the "full democracies", the US has the lowest ratings on "civil liberties" and "electoral process", and doesn't fare too well on "functioning of government" or "political participation" either. The fact that America has a restrictive two-party system is the primary reason it isn't rated well on its electoral process. The UK scores poorly on "political participation" as Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark do very well on all categories — especially Sweden.
The Economist/EIU report also includes a watch-list. Hong Kong may move more towards democracy in the next year as Taiwan, Bangladesh, Armenia, Russia, Nigeria, Burundi, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, and Mauritania risk slipping lower in the democratic rankings.
Read the full report here (PDF).