Democracy By the Numbers

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Background

Democracy is known to be a political system with institutions or governments that allow their citizens or people to express their political preferences. It is in contrast to autocracy, which does not allow citizens to express their political preferences and is not guaranteed civil liberties. A lot of people in different parts of the world are aiming to live in a democracy. But what does living in democracy truly mean? How many countries and people are democratic today? If you have the same questions in mind, you’re in the right place.

In this post, we are going to give you more information about democracy. These include its history, definition, types, and key elements. On top of that, it will also provide you with different numbers about democracy, such as the most democratic countries in the world with their index scores, the number of democratic countries in the world in contrast to autocracies, the percentage of the world’s population living in a democracy, democracy gap, and the age of democracies. Charts and graphs will be presented for further learning.

History of Democracy

At the present time, many countries and people around the world are living in a democracy. It is the opposite of monarchy, which means government by the people or the rule of the majority. In practice, democracy means the power is held by voted representatives or by the people themselves. With this, have you ever thought about how the concept of democracy started? If you are also curious about this, read on as we’re giving you more information about the history of democracy.

Democracy in Ancient Greece

a graphic art about voting in the Ancient Greece

According to National Geographic, democracy in ancient Greece served as one of the first forms of self-rule government in the ancient world. The word “democracy” was derived from two Greek words, “demos,” which means people, and “kratos,” which means rule.[1] The concept of democracy is thought to have started in Athens back in c508 BC. However, there is also an indication to suggest that democratic systems of government may have occurred somewhere else before then, although on a smaller scale.[2]

However, you have to note that the idea of democracy back in ancient times was different from present-day democracy. This is because, in ancient Athens, all adult citizens were required to take an active part in the government. If they weren’t able to, they would be fined and marked with red paint.[1] In addition to that, their definition of “citizens” was also different from today’s definition. Back then, only free men were considered citizens in Athens. These did not include children, women, and slaves, which meant they could not vote.

The foundations for democracy in Athens were laid by a noble named Solon. He also introduced a new constitution based on the ownership of property.[2] His foundations divided Athenians into four classes and distributed political power among them. People whose land made 730 bushels of grain were the highest offices, while the lowest class included laborers who could not hold office but were allowed to vote in the assembly. In addition to this, under his constitution, native-born citizens were not allowed to be enslaved by their fellow citizens.

Nevertheless, the restructurings made by Solon eventually broke down because the ruling classes started to fight among themselves, which took Athens to the brink of civil war. When this happened, a tyrant named Peisistratus rose and seized power in 546 BC. When he died, his son took over as ruler until they were overthrown in 510 BC with help from Sparta. After that, there was a separatist conflict for power that broke out again between Athenian noble families. With this, a man named Cleisthenes solicited the support of the common people by propositioning a new constitution, which included the formation of sortation. It saw citizens selected at random to fill government positions instead of getting them through inheritance.

There were ten new groups or tribes that were created to break up the prevailing power structure with political rights and civil liberties reliant on one’s tribe. Moreover, all Athenians were given the right to attend and vote in the “ekklesia,” which is an assembly made every ten days. Also, to make sure the poorest could afford to attend and join in the political activities of the city, they were given a payment for attendance from c400 BC.[2]

Every year, 500 names were chosen from all citizens of ancient Athens, which is referred to as the “boule.” Those chosen people were expected to serve actively in the government for a year. During that duration, they were responsible for creating laws and controlling all parts of the political process. When they proposed a new law, all of the citizens in Athens were given the opportunity to vote on it. To be able to vote, they need to attend the assembly on the day the vote took place.[1]

Another important institution in ancient Athens is the “dikasteria,” or the popular courts. Each day, more than 500 jurors were selected by lot from a pool of male citizens older than 30. Out of all the democratic institutions, Aristotle believed that the dikasteria contributed most to the strength of democracy as the jury had almost unlimited power.[3] You also have to note that there were no police in Athens, and it was the demos themselves who brought court cases, argued for the prosecution, and the defense, and delivered verdicts and sentences by majority rule.

The End of Athenian Democracy

However, even though ancient Greece survived defeat in the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC, its democratic experiment ended in 322 BC. This was due to the failure of the Greek revolt against Macedonian rule that followed the death of Alexander the Great.[2] Still, elements of democracy were found in the Roman world in the 3rd century, Scandinavia in the 8th century, and the Italian communes of the 11th and 13th centuries. However, full democracy as we know it today was a long time coming.

Modern Democracy

man putting ballot in the box

At the present time, there are many types of democracies being practiced in different parts of the world. In fact, there are as many different forms of democracy as there are democratic nations. No two systems are exactly the same, and no one system can be used as a model.

Some examples are presidential and parliamentary, federal or unitary, democracies that use a comparative voting system, and so on. But there is one thing that unites modern systems of democracy and which also distinguishes them from the ancient model, which is the use of representatives of the people.

In contrast to direct democracy, modern representative democracies have citizens who vote for representatives who make and enact laws on their behalf. Some of the best examples of modern-day representative democracies are the United States, Canada, and South Africa.[3]

What Exactly is Democracy?

democracy typewritten on a piece of paper

Today, in modern times, democracy is often defined in negative terms, as liberty from subjective actions, the personality cult, or the rule of a nomenclature, instead of referencing what it can achieve or the social forces behind it. Sometimes, this makes other people wonder what they are celebrating. Is it the collapse of authoritarian regimes or the victory of democracy? With this, what exactly do you think is democracy?

According to Britannica, the definition of democracy is a system of government in which laws, policies, leadership, and major activities of a state or other institution are directly or indirectly decided by the “people.” [4]

As stated by Larry Diamond of Stanford University, democracy is a system of government that has four key elements. First, it is a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections. Second, it is the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life. Third, it is the protection of the human rights of all citizens. Lastly, it is a rule of law in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.[5]

However, note that there is no absolute definition of democracy. It is a flexible term that expands and contracts based on the time, place, and circumstances of its use.

Different Types of Democracy

graphic art of person speaking in front of people

The topic of democracy is quite complicated. Some scholars state that democracy around the world has two main types, which are direct and representative. But take note that several governments also have their own specific take on democracy. To give you some ideas, here are some of the different types of democratic governments around the world:

Direct Democracy

The best example of direct democracy is that of ancient Athens. It is a type of democracy wherein all citizens are invited to participate in all political decisions. Back then, only adult males who had completed their military training were included. Women, children, and slaves were not included as citizens during those times. Direct democracy is no longer practiced at the present time, but it is a type of democracy where citizens are continuously involved in the exercise of power, and the decision is made by majority rule.[7] 

Representative Democracy

Representative democracy is also known as indirect democracy. It is a type of democracy wherein people choose to vote for who will represent them in a parliament. This is the most common type of democracy that is found in many countries around the world.[6]

Parliamentary Democracy

This is a type of democracy that gives more power to the legislature. In a parliamentary democracy, the executive branch derives its democratic legitimacy only from the legislature, such as the parliament. The elected legislature chooses the head of the government or the prime minister. It may also remove the prime minister at any time by passing a vote of no confidence.[6 

Presidential Democracy

When a country is under a presidential democracy, the president of a state has a noteworthy amount of power over the government. He or she is either directly or indirectly elected by the citizens of the state. Under this type of democracy, the president and the executive branch of the government are not liable to the legislature. However, they can’t dismiss the legislature entirely under normal circumstances. Similarly, the president can’t be removed by the legislature from his or her office either, unless under an extreme case.[6] In this type of democracy, the head of the state is also the head of the government. 

Authoritarian Democracy

Under an authoritarian democracy, only the elites are a part of the parliamentary process. The individuals of the state can vote for the candidate they like, but “regular people” are not allowed to enter the elections. It means that in the end, only the ruling elite decides on the different interests of the state’s population. One classic example of this type of democracy is Modern-day Russia under Vladimir Putin.[6] 

Participatory Democracy

This type of democracy is contrary to authoritarian democracy. This type desires to create opportunities for all members of a population to make meaningful contributions when it comes to the decision-making process. Participatory democracy breaks up the state into small networks and chooses to empower community-based grassroots politics to empower the disempowered.[6] Instead of just voting, this type of democracy values deliberation. However, no country today follows this form of democracy.

What are the Key Elements of a Democratic Government?

To be able to say that a country is democratic, there are four essential elements that need to be present in the form of government. Here they are:

1. People’s Choice

graphic art of people voting

The political system is something that allows the citizens to pick the members of the government through elections. It is a process wherein people who are on the electoral roll or those who are qualified to vote join in the balloting and cast a vote for the person they prefer. Eventually, the person who gets voted by the majority wins. Among the many different forms of government, democracy is the only one that gives people the freedom to choose their leaders.[8]

2. People’s Participation

graphic art of a group of people

In a democratic government, people are meant to lead. Superior preference is given to public welfare.[8] Therefore, people are invited to participate in politics and public jobs. Ordinary citizens from no royal background are elected to higher positions on the basis of merit.

3. Fundamental Rights

graphic illustration of human rights

The recognition of fundamental rights in the constitution of the state is the most important requirement of democracy. These pertain to the basic human rights that are included in the supreme law of the state. These rights are unbreakable and inseparable and cannot be suspended. Therefore, nobody can strip people of their basic rights in any way.[8] Some of the rights and freedom that are guaranteed in a democratic government are:

  • Right to life
  • Right to education
  • Right to a fair trial
  • Right to acquire property
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of profession
  • Protection from illegal detention

4. Rule of Law

people talking about law

Democracy is not an arbitrary rule of people. A democratic state has three branches, which are the legislature, executive, and judiciary. The legislative branch is responsible for creating laws that require firm adherence. The executive branch is responsible for implementing the laws and ensuring that they are followed. The police force is one part of the executive branch.

The judiciary branch comes into play in case the laws are violated. This branch includes the local courts, high courts, and supreme courts. In addition to that, the judiciary branch also interprets the laws that are outlined by the legislature.[8] If ever the above-mentioned fundamental rights are denied to the citizens by any public official, the aggrieved people can come to the court to seek relief.

The three branches of a democratic government should always guarantee the preservation of public welfare.

4 Types of Regime

politicians in a conference

In politics, a regime pertains to the form of government or the set of rules, social or cultural norms, and more that regulate the operation of an institution or government and its interactions with society. Even if countries claim that they are democratic, they may have different regimes. Here are the four types of regimes:

1. Full Democracies

When a country has full democracy, not only basic political freedoms and civil liberties are respected, but it is also reinforced by a political culture favorable to the thriving of democracy. This means that the government is functioning well, the media are independent and diverse, and there is an effective system of checks and balances. In addition to that, the judiciary is dependent and judicial decisions are enforced.[9] Countries with full democracies only have limited issues in the functioning of democracies. 

2. Flawed Democracies

Countries with flawed democracies have free and fair elections. However, there may be problems, such as infringements on media freedom, but basic civil liberties are still respected. A flawed democracy involves significant weaknesses in other aspects, such as problems in governance, low levels of political participation, and an underdeveloped political culture.[9] 

3. Hybrid Regimes

In countries that have hybrid regimes, their elections have considerable irregularities that usually stop them from being both free and fair. It is common to have government pressure on opposition parties and candidates. Compared to flawed democracies, serious weaknesses are more prevalent in hybrid regimes, including political culture, government function, and political participation.[9] The rule of law is weak, and corruption is widespread. In addition to that, civil society is weak, and most of the time, there is harassment of and pressure on journalists. Also, the judiciary is not independent. 

4. Authoritarian Regimes

In states or countries with authoritarian regimes, state political pluralism is lacking or is heavily circumscribed. Countries in these categories are mostly outright dictatorships. They may have some formal institutions of democracy, but these have little substance. If ever they have elections, these are not free and fair. Also, there is disregard for abuses and infringements of civil liberties. Mostly, the media are state-owned or controlled by groups connected to the ruling government. In addition, there is repression of criticism of the government and pervasive censorship. Authoritarian regimes also do not have an independent judiciary.[9]

In Numbers

an illustration of the World Map

Annually, the Economist Intelligence Unit releases the Democracy Index report. It measures the state of democracy in 167 countries in the world by tracking 60 indicators in five various categories, such as the electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, civil liberties, and political culture. These indicators are put together to provide each category a rating on a 0 to 10 scale, and the five category scores are averaged to determine the global index score.[10]

Countries that have a total democracy index score from 8.01 to 10 are considered full democracies. Those that have scores between 6.01 to 8.00 are referred to as flawed democracies. The lower two categories are countries that did not score well enough to be considered democracies. Those that scored from 4.01 to 6.0 are under a hybrid regime, while those lower than 4 are under an authoritative regime. Based on the 2020 Democracy Index, there are 23 countries under full democracies, 52 under flawed democracies, 35 in hybrid regimes, and 57 in authoritarian regimes.

Here are the ten most democratic nations in the world in 2020:

10 Most Democractic Countries in the World

Based on the Democracy Index, Norway was the most democratic country in 2020. The United States, however, scored 7.92 and landed in the flawed democracy category, and was not among the top 10. It has been in that position since it fell from full democracy in 2016.

Number of Democracies and Growth Over Time

For the past several years, concern about the future of democracy has been growing. In addition to that, there also has been considerable dissatisfaction in many countries when it comes to how democracy is working in practice. Despite that, public support for democratic ideals is still strong.[11]

Today, the majority of the world’s countries are democracies. The conclusion of World War I led to the beginning of many democracies around the world. However, in the 1930s, a lot of the young democracies reverted to being autocratic or dictatorial. After World War II, the number of democracies started to grow again. It was in 1989, during the fall of the Iron Curtain, that there was a dramatic increase in the number of democracies.

Here’s the number of democracies vs. the number of autocracies from 1900 to 2018:

Number of Democracies and Autocracies 1901-2018

Number of People Living in Democracy

The following data indicate the number of nations and the percentage of the world population by type of regime. However, the calculations do not include some microstates.

Percentage of World's Population Living in Democracy 2020

According to the Democracy Index, in 2020, the highest percentage of the world population was under flawed democracies, followed by authoritarian regimes. Only 8.4% of the world’s population are under full democracies, while 15% are under hybrid regimes.

Even though the highest percentage of the world’s population are living in a democracy, most are under flawed democracies. As we’ve mentioned earlier, countries under a flawed democracy type of regime have free and fair elections but also have issues when it comes to governance and also has low levels of political participation. We also need to note that there is still a high percentage of the world’s population that is living under authoritarian regimes in 2020.

Democracy Gap

As the years pass, democracies in the world are constantly changing. Some nations are improving, while others are declining in terms of democracy. Let’s take a look at the democracy gap from 2005 to 2020.

Democracy Gap

According to Freedom House, due to the increase of authoritarian rule, along with the declining and unpredictable occurrence of major democracies on the global stage, there have been concrete effects on human life and security, which include the frequent recourse to military force to resolve political disagreements.[12] Based on the graph above, countries that have cumulative score declines in Freedom in the World, and these have outstripped those countries that have improved each year within 15 years.

Age of Democracies

A country is considered democratic if it meets certain conditions for contestation or election and political participation. Here are the top oldest democratic countries as of 2021:

Top 25 Countries with Oldest Democracies in 2021

Among the many democratic countries in the world, the United States has the oldest age of democracy, which is 222 years in 2021.

15 Interesting Facts About Democracy

graphic art_of people voting

To sum up this post, here are some of the most interesting facts about democracy that you should know:

  1. The word democracy comes from the Greek word demos, which means people.
  2. The world’s youngest democracy is the country of Bhutan. Its first democratic elections started in 2007, and by 2011, all levels of its government were democratically elected.
  3. The 25 richest countries in the world are democracies.
  4. The world’s largest democracy is the Republic of India, as one-sixth of the global population lives there.
  5. Democracy is not a perfect kind of government because it has many issues that make it challenging for the proper representation of the people.
  6. Most of the time, voters in a democratic country are misled or uneducated and do not have any idea what or who they are voting for.
  7. Corruption is prevalent in democratic countries, and it can affect voting outcomes and potentially lead to unfair election practices.
  8. One of the downfalls when it comes to democracy is the possibility for voters to make selections based on poor information or total ignorance.
  9. Most countries in the world are formal democracies.
  10. One in three people live in autocratic or dictatorial systems, and more than half of them are in China.
  11. Elections in democratic countries are not always peaceful.
  12. One of the important elements of a democracy is the separation of the institutions within, between government, parliament, and the courts of law.
  13. Since 1997, the total number of women who were elected to parliament has almost doubled.
  14. The two main types of democracies are direct democracy and representative democracy.
  15. The quality of many democracies in the world remains deeply flawed. In fact, only around 15% can be described as full democracies. The rest are either flawed democracies or hybrid regimes.[13]

Conclusion

It’s amazing to know that the concept of democracy began in ancient times but is still being followed today. In fact, it has developed a lot, and many people around the world are aiming to live in a democratic country. It is indeed true that the system and ideas employed by the ancient Greeks had profound influences on how democracy developed and impacted the formation of different governments in the world. We hope this post helped you learn more about democracy.

References

[1] National Geographic Society. (2019, March 15). Democracy (Ancient Greece). National Geographic Society. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/democracy-ancient-greece/.

[2] Immediate Media Company, E. (2021, June 24). Your guide to the history of democracy. HistoryExtra. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://www.historyextra.com/period/ancient-greece/what-is-democracy-definition-history-facts-solon-peisistratos-ekklesia/.

[3] History.com, E. (2018, August 23). Ancient greek democracy. History. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-greece/ancient-greece-democracy.

[4] Dahl, Robert A. (2021, March 9). “democracy”. Encyclopedia Britannica, Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/democracy.

[5] Diamond, L. (2004, January 21). What is democracy? What is Democracy? | Larry Diamond. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://diamond-democracy.stanford.edu/speaking/lectures/what-democracy.

[6] Patil, V. (2021, October 14). What are the different types and forms of democracy? Science ABC. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://www.scienceabc.com/social-science/different-types-democracy-direct-representative-presidential-parliamentary.html#types-of-democracy.

[7] MOADOPH, E. (2019, September 24). Defining democracy. Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://www.moadoph.gov.au/democracy/defining-democracy/#.

[8] Basic Concept, E. (n.d.). Elements of democracy with definition. Basics. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.basic-concept.com/c/elements-of-democracy-with-definition.

[9] The Economist Intelligence Unit. (2021). Democracy Index 2020: In sickness and in health? The Economist. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.eiu.com/n/campaigns/democracy-index-2020/?utm_source=economist-daily-chart&utm_medium=anchor&utm_campaign=democracy-index-2020&utm_content=anchor-1.

[10] World Population Review, E. (2021). Democracy. Democracy countries 2021. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/democracy-countries.

[11] DeSilver, D. (2019, May 14). Despite global concerns about democracy, more than half of countries are Democratic. Pew Research Center. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/14/more-than-half-of-countries-are-democratic/.

[12] Repucci, S., & Slipowitz, A. (2021). Democracy Under Siege. Freedom House. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2021/democracy-under-siege.

[13] Green, D. (2013, July 12). 10 killer facts on democracy and elections. 10 Killer Facts on Democracy and Elections – FP2P. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://oxfamapps.org/fp2p/10-killer-facts-on-democracy-and-elections/.

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