25 January 2017 (The Economist) – America, which has long defined itself as a standard-bearer of democracy for the world, has become a “flawed democracy” according to the taxonomy used in the annual Democracy Index from the Economist Intelligence Unit, our sister company. Although its score did not fall by much—from 8.05 in 2015 to 7.98 in 2016—it was enough for it to slip just below the 8.00 threshold for a “full democracy”. It joins France, Greece, and Japan in the second-highest tier of the index. The downgrade was not a consequence of Donald Trump, states the report. Rather, it was caused by the same factors that led Mr Trump to the White House: a continued erosion of trust in government and elected officials, which the index measures using data from global surveys. In total, it incorporates 60 indicators across five broad categories: electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture, and civil liberties.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index, 2016. Graphic: Economist Intelligence Unit

A similar pattern of declining popular confidence in political elites and institutions has also been evident in Europe. Such disaffection helped cause the scores of more than 70 countries to decline compared with 2015. Although Britain is one of the leading exemplars of this trend, it was one of only 38 countries to record an improved score, thanks to the robust turnout of 72.2% in the June 2016 Brexit referendum. Despite all the movement in the middle, however, the extremes of the ranking are still in place. Norway keeps its spot at the top with a near-perfect 9.93 out of 10, while North Korea remains rooted to the bottom of the table.

Declining trust in government is denting democracy

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