“The unchecked brutality of autocratic regimes and the ethical decay of democratic powers are combining to make the world increasingly hostile to fresh demands for better governance,” said Sarah Repucci, vice president for research. “Without greater support and solidarity from established democracies, protest movements calling for freedom and reform are more likely to succumb to authoritarian reprisals.”
Freedom in the World 2020 assesses the political rights and civil liberties of 210 countries and territories worldwide. The report focuses on developments that occurred between January and December 2019.
- Of the 195 countries assessed, 83 (43 percent) were rated Free, 63 (32 percent) were Partly Free, and 49 (25 percent) were Not Free. The share of Free countries has declined by 3 percentage points over the last decade, while the percentage of Partly Free and Not Free countries rose by two and one points, respectively.
- The gap between setbacks and gains widened. People in 64 countries experienced deterioration in their political rights and civil liberties in 2019, while those in just 37 countries experienced improvements. The difference was smaller in 2018, when 68 countries declined and 50 made gains.
- The countries with the year’s largest gains and declines were concentrated in Africa. Benin, Mozambique, and Tanzania suffered from flawed elections and state repression of dissent, while Sudan, Madagascar, and Ethiopia benefited from progress toward reform and more democratic rule.
- Most established democracies have experienced declines over the past 14 years. Of the world’s 41 established democracies as of 2005, defined as those that had been rated Free for each of the previous 20 years, 25 have since suffered net score declines.
- Mass protests yielded mixed results for each country or territory’s overall score. For example, Hong Kong slipped by four points due in part to acts of repression by police and progovernment thugs. Sudan’s score improved by five points after its protest movement paved the way for a power-sharing transitional government.
- As democratic states display faltering support for freedom on the international stage, authoritarian powers have expanded their global influence through proxy wars, election interference, and censorship beyond their borders.
“The report shows clearly once again, democracy is in decline,” said Abramowitz. “Political rights and civil liberties are threatened in free societies and repressive ones alike. It is possible to turn the tide on this trend, but it is going to take concerted efforts from governments, pressure from the people, and partnership from the business community.”