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Visualizing the Decline of Freedom Over 12 Consecutive Years

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

Like many other things in this world, the amount of freedom that people have ebbs and flows with time.

In general, it can be argued that political and economic freedoms have been increasing steadily since The Enlightenment – but of course, there are always shorter corrections along the way where freedom seems to spiral downwards in the interim.

Right now, we’re in one of those ruts, and global freedom has consecutively declined for a 12 year period.

Democracy in Crisis

Freedom in the World, a report published every year since 1973, attempts to measure civil liberties and political rights around the world. It’s put together by Freedom House, a non-governmental organization based in the United States.

According to their index, here is the share of “free” countries globally between 1973-2018:

Freedom over time

This year’s report for 2018 is entitled “Democracy in Crisis”, and it sounds the alarm on eroding freedom throughout the world.

Falling Scores

While the number of “free” countries is holding fairly steady at close to 45%, there is a clear downtrend with the scores of the countries themselves.

In 2017, for example, there were 71 countries that had net declines in score, while only 35 had net increases. This makes for a differential of -36, which is the widest gap during the 12 year downtrend.

Year Improved Declined Differential
2006 56 59 -3
2007 43 59 -16
2008 38 60 -22
2009 34 67 -33
2010 34 49 -15
2011 37 54 -17
2012 43 63 -20
2013 40 54 -14
2014 33 62 -29
2015 43 72 -29
2016 36 67 -31
2017 35 71 -36

Why do scores continue to decline?

Here are some of the specific examples, cited by the report:

  • The erosion of democratic norms in the U.S., which is actually the extension of a seven year trend
  • The expansion of influence from key autocracies, particularly Russia and China
  • Turkey’s transition from “Partly Free” to “Not Free” – the result of President Erdoğan asserting more control over the country
  • Big drops in the scores of European countries like Poland and Hungary, where populist leaders are consolidating power
  • Another drop in Venezuela’s score, as the country undergoes a full-blown humanitarian crisis
  • A recent backslide in the scores in Arab Spring countries – even in Tunisia, which was heralded as a democratic success story

For much more in-depth reading, here is a link to the full report PDF.

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Jeff Agoos is a web developer and designer, writer and a passionate musician who loves to travel often. He's worked as a researcher for a number of venture capital firms and as a freelancer designer.