Executive Summary

The global state of democracy in 2023 is complex, fluid and unequal.

The global state of democracy in 2023 is complex, fluid and unequal. Across every region of the world, democracy has continued to contract, with declines in at least one indicator of democratic performance in half of the countries covered in the Report. Measured in terms of the areas of improvement and decline within each country, 2022 was the sixth consecutive year in which more countries experienced net declines in democratic processes than net improvements. This six-year pattern of decline is the longest of this kind since our records began in 1975. In short, democracy is still in trouble, stagnant at best, and declining in many places. But there are a few green shoots
of hope (notably, corruption falling and surprisingly high levels of political participation). Indeed, while The Global State of Democracy 2023 shows some declines in countries that had been thought to be healthy democracies, at the same time there were encouraging improvements in countries where the level of oppression has been constant for years.

Against this background, this year’s report highlights the role of so-called countervailing institutions in stopping the erosion of democratic institutions and reacting to the entrenchment of authoritarian forces.

The term goes beyond the traditional understanding of ‘checks and balances’ to encompass those governmental and non-governmental institutions, organizations and movements that check the aggrandizement of power and balance the distribution of power to ensure that decision makers regularly integrate popular priorities into policy.

Countervailing institutions include relatively new entities, such as human rights organizations and electoral management bodies, as well as civil society networks, popular movements and investigative journalists, which all play an irreplaceable role in ensuring democracy continues to be of and by the people.

International IDEA analyses democratic trends using four top-level categories of performance:

  • Representation
  • Rights
  • Rule of Law
  • Participation.


It found notable declines in Representation (including in Credible Elections and Effective Parliament) and in Rule of Law (with declines in Judicial Independence, and Personal Integrity and Security). These setbacks were seen in every single region of the world. They corresponded to events such as the continuing wave of coups d’état in Africa (most recently in Niger and Gabon) and the collapse of representative institutions in Haiti.


In the Rights category, overall declines were not significant, but stagnation at a low level is not a situation to celebrate or tolerate. Moreover, many countries experienced declines in Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly and Association, sometimes connected to deteriorations in security. In such contexts, the fundamental enabling conditions of democracy, including opportunities for debate and dialogue (which drive innovation), are at risk of disappearing. The diverse ways in which these declines find expression range from the extreme measures against organized crime in El Salvador to the misuse of laws against misinformation in many countries in Western Asia.

Rule of Law

Turning to the Rule of Law category, after many years of stagnation in levels of corruption, there were improvements in countries across all regions. The picture was not unambiguously positive, however, because many of the countries making progress combatting corruption—for example, Angola, Benin, Burundi, Kazakhstan and Mexico—are facing challenges in other indicators of democracy. Nevertheless, initial indications are positive.


The most encouraging category was Participation, where scores remained surprisingly high even in countries with a low level of democratic performance at an institutional level.

While there were still more countries with declines in Participation than advances, the picture here was much less negative than in other areas of democratic performance. As the report details, there are also encouraging cases in many countries where political participation has had policy impacts.

Regional sections

Using these categories, the report looks at five regions: Africa, Western Asia, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe.


African countries continue to perform below the global averages for many indicators.

In Africa, the quality of Representation has fallen, as the continent has been affected by both acute declines following unconstitutional changes of government (including coups d’état) and chronic declines where authoritarian leaders and parties have sought to prolong their time in power. Yet, while African countries continue to perform below the global averages for many indicators, the continent has emerged as a bastion of strength in the category of Participation—even in countries where other indicators present a dire situation for democracy.

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Western Asia

While the overall picture of authoritarianism in Western Asia persists, there have been shifts in both authoritarian practices and the pro-democratic responses to them.[1]

The region is especially notable for the proliferation of new forms of electronic surveillance and repression. Even so, pro-democratic popular movements have challenged entrenched powers in countries across the region, in spite of a range of dangers and threats. Corruption has presented a persistent challenge to democratic growth in the region, as illicit exchanges and patronage networks have eroded public trust in institutions—even in the countries that hold competitive elections.

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Most of the countries in the Americas continue to perform at a mid-range level across many indicators.

Representation is an area of relative strength in the region, as many countries score highly when it comes to Elected Government. However, several countries in Central and South America are increasingly faced with declines in Rule of Law and Rights, as a result of severe problems in protecting judicial independence, ensuring social equality, and maintaining civil liberties and public safety. The longer-term threats to democracy that these situations entail need attention.

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Asia & the Pacific

Across the diverse countries of Asia, a broad decline in democratic quality appears to have halted.

Apart from the significant exceptions of Afghanistan and Myanmar. However, civic space remains under threat, as Freedom of Expression, Freedom of the Press, and Freedom of Association and Assembly have declined across many countries. A combination of long-term problems with the effectiveness of legislatures and a lack of judicial independence has meant that innovative and informal institutions and practices have taken on the role of limiting government power. Democracies in the Pacific area, which is a renewed focus of geopolitical tension between the United States and China, also saw no significant declines. But they may begin to see their institutions being tested by these outside pressures.

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Europe remains the world’s highest-performing region, led by a number of consolidated democracies.

However, from these high starting levels there have been significant declines in specific indicators of democratic performance in many of these established democracies, signalling that it is not wise to be complacent. More hopefully, in recent years, several countries in Central Europe have made significant progress in democratic performance, particularly in the Rule of Law category. Even so, threats to peace and democracy from authoritarianism and democratic declines in the region remain painfully apparent. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has galvanized support for democracy in Europe, but made clear what is at stake when democratization efforts fail—as they have in Russia.

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What can be done to address the threats to democracy, both acute and chronic?

The Global State of Democracy 2023 policy recommendations include:

  • support for electoral processes, focusing on mechanisms that guarantee fair contests and participation;
  • transparency and access to information in legislatures that would multiply the sources of accountability;
  • full commitment from governments to protect civic space;
  • and legal protections for the independence of institutions that protect elections, investigate corruption and supervise government programmes.
The gears of democracy continue to turn, although it may be that the centre of democratic machinery is shifting away from the traditional core institutions of representation to other bodies, organizations and movements.
References and Footnotes
  • The text of this report was finalized before the outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas in October 2023 and therefore does not take these events into account. As with all other countries, the quantitative indicators reported here cover only events before 31 December 2022.