This GSoD In Focus provides a brief overview of the global state of democracy at the end of 2019, prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, and assesses some of the preliminary impacts that the pandemic has had on democracy globally in 2020.

Key findings include: 

  • To address the COVID-19 pandemic, starting in March 2020, more than half the countries in the world (59 per cent) had declared a national state of emergency (SoE), enabling them to take drastic temporary (and in most cases necessary) measures to fight the pandemic. These measures have included in most cases temporarily curbing basic civil liberties, such as freedom of assembly and movement, and in some cases postponing elections.
  • International IDEA’s Global Monitor of COVID-19’s Impact on Democracy and Human Rights finds that more than half the countries in the world (61 per cent) had, by the end of November 2020, implemented measures to curb COVID-19 that were concerning from a democracy and human rights perspective. These violated democratic standards because they were either disproportionate, illegal, indefinite or unnecessary in relation to the health threat.
  • Concerning developments have been more common in countries that were already non-democratic prior to the pandemic (90 per cent) and less common, although still quite widespread, in democracies (43 per cent).
  • The democracies that have implemented democratically concerning measures are those that were already ailing before the pandemic. More than two-thirds were democracies that were either backsliding, eroding or weak prior to the pandemic.
  • Almost a year since the first outbreak of COVID-19, the pandemic seems to have deepened autocratization in most of the countries that were already non-democratic. However, in at least 3 of those countries (Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand), the pandemic has also tapped into existing simmering citizen discontent and may have been the tipping point in unleashing massive protest waves demanding democratic reform. The pandemic has also seemingly deepened democratic backsliding processes and exposed the democratic weakness and fragility of new or re-transitioned democracies (Malaysia, Mali, Myanmar, Sri Lanka). In a few cases, the pandemic has also exposed countries that showed no apparent sign of democratically ailing prior to the pandemic, but where concerning democratic developments have occurred during the pandemic and which risk seeing a significant deterioration in their democratic quality as a result (i.e. Argentina, El Salvador).
  • The aspects of democracy that have seen the most concerning developments during the pandemic are freedom of expression, media integrity, and personal integrity and security. However, the freedoms that have been restricted across most countries are freedom of movement and assembly. Another core democratic process that has been heavily affected by the pandemic is the electoral, with half the elections scheduled between February and December 2020 postponed due to the pandemic.
  • The pandemic has also shown democracy’s resilience and capacity for renovation. Innovation through accelerated digitalization has occurred across most regions of the world. And democratic institutions, such as parliaments, courts, electoral commissions, political parties, media and civil society actors, have fought back against attempts at executive overreach and democratic trampling or collaborated to ensure effective responses to the pandemic.

The review of the state of democracy during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 uses qualitative analysis and data of global events and trends collected through International IDEA’s Global Monitor of COVID-19’s Impact on Democracy and Human Rights, an initiative co-funded by the European Union.


Publication date
09 December 2020
Number of pages


1. Introduction

2. The global democratic landscape prior to the COVID-19 pandemic

3. Democracy during the COVID-19 pandemic: Challenges and opportunities

4. Conclusion

5. Policy considerations


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Taking Stock of Global Democratic Trends Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

GSoD In Focus Special Brief
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