The United States has fallen from the ranks of what a respected business intelligence provider considers “full democracies” and can now only be considered a “flawed democracy” -- but the reason for the demotion may be a surprise.
As the country’s new president, Donald Trump, sits in the White House and tweets about some sort of federal takeover of Chicago and continues to press false claims of massive voter fraud in an election that he won, it would be easy to assume that the new ranking from the Economist Intelligence Unit is related to his elevation to the White House.
However, the respected 70-year-old research and analysis division of the same company that publishes The Economist newspaper says that Trump’s election is a symptom of broader failings of American democracy, not its cause.
“Popular trust in government, elected representatives and political parties have fallen to extremely low levels in the US,” the report says. “This has been a long-term trend and one that preceded the election of Mr. Trump as US president in November 2016. By tapping a deep strain of political disaffection with the functioning of democracy, Mr. Trump became a beneficiary of the low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives, and political parties, but he was not responsible for a problem that has had a long gestation.”
The US, it adds, had been “teetering on the brink” of falling out of the ranks of full democracies, and would have done so in this year’s report even if there had been no presidential election at all.
The EIU democracy rankings are based on a ten-point scale, with a score based on combined rating of Electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties.
A cumulative score below 8.0 drops a country out of the “full democracy” ranks and into those of “flawed democracies,” where the US now keeps company with countries that include Italy, Botswana, Sri Lanka, and Mexico.
Dragging the country’s score down was its rating in the “functioning of government” (7.14) and “political participation” (7.22) categories.
The EIU cites multiple “long-standing reasons” for the decline in the country’s government function ranking, including “ideological entrenchment of congressional representatives” leading to “bitter partisanship.”
“The upshot is a stronger emphasis on ideological purity and less appetite for compromise, which reinforces a lack of confidence in Congress among voters. Nevertheless, respect for the constitution and democratic values are deeply entrenched as a result of centuries of democratic practice. For urgent and crucial decisions majorities can normally be obtained, but solutions to long-term problems often fall victim to deadlock.”
The EIU report, being descriptive rather than prescriptive, doesn’t offer the country a roadmap back to full democracy status. However, it offers some hope that economic growth could help ameliorate some of the country’s problems.
“If income inequality has exacerbated American trust in government and public institutions, continued economic progress should start to reverse this trend in the coming years. The unemployment rate has fallen below 5 percent, average hourly wage growth is at its highest level since the financial crisis, and income inequality should gradually narrow if the economic recovery continues. If these trends are maintained, the US could improve in our 2017 rankings.”