Democracy in Crisis: Freedom in the World 2018
Freedom House 2018
This report was made possible by the generous support of the Smith Richardson Foundation and the Lilly Endowment. Freedom House also gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the Reed Foundation, the Achelis & Bodman Foundation, David L. Fogel, and additional private contributors who wish to remain anonymous.
:: Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—came under attack around the world.
:: Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, with only 35 registering gains. This marked the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
:: The United States retreated from its traditional role as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy amid an accelerating decline in American political rights and civil liberties.
:: Over the period since the 12-year global slide began in 2006, 113 countries have seen a net decline, and only 62 have experienced a net improvement.
The challenges within democratic states have fueled the rise of populist leaders who appeal to anti-immigrant sentiment and give short shrift to fundamental civil and political liberties. Right-wing populists gained votes and parliamentary seats in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria during 2017. While they were kept out of government in all but Austria, their success at the polls helped to weaken established parties on both the right and left. Centrist newcomer Emmanuel Macron handily won the French presidency, but in Germany and the Netherlands, mainstream parties struggled to create stable governing coalitions.
Perhaps worst of all, and most worrisome for the future, young people, who have little memory of the long struggles against fascism and communism, may be losing faith and interest in the democratic project. The very idea of democracy and its promotion has been tarnished among many, contributing to a dangerous apathy.
The retreat of democracies is troubling enough. Yet at the same time, the world’s leading autocracies, China and Russia, have seized the opportunity not only to step up internal repression but also to export their malign influence to other countries, which are increasingly copying their behavior and adopting their disdain for democracy. A confident Chinese president Xi Jinping recently proclaimed that China is “blazing a new trail” for developing countries to follow. It is a path that includes politicized courts, intolerance for dissent, and predetermined elections…