Democracy & Justice

Which are the Most and Least Democratic Countries in the World?

Every year, the Democracy Index measures the strength of global democracy. 2022 was a year that saw war in Europe and the Covid pandemic ease. But despite the rolling back of public health restrictions, democracy didn't bounce back in most world regions.

by Eleanor Brooks

In the simplest terms, the most important ingredients of a democracy are:

In a truly democratic society, everyone is treated fairly and equally, and has the right to have a say in how society is governed. When the state respects that their power is dependent on the continued support of the people, they are more likely to find shared solutions to the issues we raise, and make decisions that are in our best interest.

1. Citizenship participation

Citizenship participation is a key ingredient of a democracy. By expressing their opinions, through voting in elections, attending protests or speaking to their political representatives, citizens are actively involved in the government’s decision-making process.

2. Equality: Equal Participation & the Rule of Law

Under a democracy, everyone is treated equally. This means everyone is given equal opportunity to take part in democratic processes and their opinions are given the same weight, regardless of their background. It also means that everyone has to abide by the laws, including those in positions of power like lawmakers and government officials. This is known as the rule of law.

3. Protection of Fundamental Rights

Respecting fundamental rights and civil liberties is a definiting characteristic of a democracy. When people are free to express their opinion, demonstrate on the street, practice the religion of their choice and marry who they choose, this allows citizens to enjoy their personal freedom. It also keeps the power of the state in check by helping to prevent abuse of office.

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4. Accountability and Transparency

Under a democracy, the people are seen as the true source of power. The role of our elected politicians is to represent our best interests, and they are accountable to us for their actions while in office. Access to information and transparency in what the government is doing allows citizens to meaningfully participate in the democratic process and make politicians answerable for their decisions.

5. Peaceful transfer of power

A peaceful transfer of power is a key ingredient of democracy. The willingness of leaders and political parties to give up power if the people don’t choose to re-elect them, or they have already served the maximum term, is strongly indicative of whether a system of governance is a true democracy, or an autocratic state performing democracy. In a healthy democracy, a peaceful transition of power happens through periodic free and fair elections.

What is the Democracy Index?

The Democracy Index is a way of measuring the health of democracy across the world. In existence since 2006 and compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit, it provides an overview of how well democracy is faring in 165 independent states and two territories. Countries are ranked numerically and categorised based on their democratic score. It is a useful tool because it allows for year-on-year comparison globally, as well as making it possible to track the progress of countries working to become a full democracy, as well as those who are veering towards authoritarianism.

How can democracy be measured?

Quantifying democracy may seem like a fool’s errand. The spirit of democracy is surely an intangible thing, like that rush you feel when you are one of thousands demonstrating on the street. Or maybe it’s found in the everyday things, like walking through streets that are well taken care of, or bringing your child to school, so they can use their education as a springboard for their bright future. While it may not be possible to accurately measure how democracy impacts our daily life, it is possible to assess how well the systems which maintain democracy are upheld and respected. After all, Liberties does this in our annual Rule of Law Report. Similarly, the Democracy Index examines 60 indicators related to the following democratic processes of a country in the following broad categories: electoral processes, civil liberties, political participation, functioning of government, and political culture. These categories take the temperature of the relationship between the state and its people: citizens’ ability to express their opinions and have their needs considered in decision making, how well the government performs and whether it is transparent and accountable, and the strength of public trust.

In addition to relying on expert assessments, public opinion surveys are relied on when scoring countries, particularly for the indicators of political participation and political culture. Each country is assigned a score based on each of these factors, which is used to determine their overall democratic score and their placement in one of four categories: Full Democracy, Flawed Democracy, Hybrid Regime, or Authoritarian Regime. Each category reflects the degree to which democratic principles are respected and the health of democratic checks and balances.

The categories of democracy as defined by Democracy Index:

Full democracies: Countries in which not only basic political freedoms and civil liberties are respected, but which also tend to be underpinned by a political culture conducive to the flourishing of democracy.

Flawed democracies: These countries also have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.

Hybrid regimes: Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. Serious weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies—in political culture, functioning of government and political participation.

Authoritarian regimes: In these states, state political pluralism is absent or heavily circumscribed. Many countries in this category are outright dictatorships. Some formal institutions of democracy may exist, but these have little substance.

Source: Democracy Index 2022, The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited 2023

Which were the most democratic countries in 2022?

According to the Democracy Index, Norway continues to be the most democratic country in the world. This falls in line with a trend of the Nordic countries (Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark) sharing the upper ranks with New Zealand, who came in second place.

Western Europe is the most democratic region globally, claiming eight of the top ten places. It’s worth noting that many of the democratic setbacks experienced in western European countries during the pandemic were recouped after restrictions were lifted, which saw the region bounce back from the 2021 decline and registered the highest increase in index score. These developments also saw France, Spain, and Chile, which had slipped into the “flawed democracies” category”, graduate back to “full democracies”.

The country which made the biggest overall improvement was Thailand, with a score increase of 0.62. This saw Thailand jump 17 places to rank 55. An outlier in the Asia and Australasia region, which saw many countries suffering a drop in their index score, Thailand’s progress can be attributed to an increase in diversity among the political spectrum and an abatement in the Malay-Muslim secessionist conflict in Southern Thailand. Taiwan is the highest ranked democracy in Asia and only one of the region’s three “full democracies” (alongside Japan and South Korea). It has had a consistently high score since 2020 when its index jumped by 1.2, which saw increased support for the democratic system amongst Taiwanese people in light of the struggles being witnessed in Hong Kong as well as a balanced government response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Canada remains the only “full democracy” in North America, as the U.S. hasn’t budged from its categorisation as a “flawed democracy” where it has remained since 2016.

Which were the least democratic countries in 2022?

While 2022 saw some positive developments, overall there was little cause for cheer as democracy stagnated. Despite the warning threat of Covid-19 and the rolling back of many pandemic-related restrictions, the global average score remained stubbornly stationary at 5.29 compared to 5.28 in 2021.

Afghanistan was ranked as the least democratic country in 2022 for the second consecutive year, having dropped from 2.85 in 2020 to 0.32 in 2021 following the return to power of the Taliban. Myanmar also performed dismally for a consecutive year, following a military coup in 2021 which saw political participation and media freedom squeezed.

Burkina Faso in west Africa, ranked at 127, saw a dramatic fall in its index score (the second biggest drop globally), losing 0.76 points following an Islamist insurgency which led to the displacement of millions, thousands of deaths and the introduction of military rule.

The elephant in the room when taking a health check of global democracy is of course Russia. It will come as no surprise that Russia is the country that registered the biggest loss of points during 2022, tumbling by 0.96 points to 2.28 and falling from 124th place to 146th place (out of 167). Already classed as an “authoritarian regime” since 2011, the steady erosion of democratic norms from 2012 onwards picked up speed in 2022 following extremely punitive measures taken by the state against critics of the war to stamp out dissent.

China similarly suffered a severe democratic blow, losing 0.27 index points and falling 8 places to 156th place. This significant deterioration can be attributed to China’s persistent zero-covid policy, which led large swathes of the population having their civil liberties curtailed and was only abandoned in December 2022, as well as the government’s oppressive response to dissenters.


While 2022 did show improvement in comparison to 2021, with 75 countries increasing their score compared to only 47 the year previously, it is worrying that the remaining 92 countries

either stagnated or declined despite the fading danger of the Covid-19 virus. This suggests that global democracy has suffered a setback that cannot quite so easily be reversed through the lifting of covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

It’s worth noting that while Western Europe performed quite well and recorded marked improvement since many civil liberties and freedoms were restored, not a single country in Eastern Europe is a “full democracy”. Liberties’ Rule of Law Report 2023, which assessed the health of democratic systems in 18 European Union member states during 2022, also found that democracy was weakening as governments seem less willing to listen to what the people want.

The turn towards conservatism trending across Europe suggests that citizens worried about the stability of the future are comforted by the authoritarian movement’s promise of stability (whether they can deliver is another matter). However, once in power, authoritarians dismantle the very democratic systems that got them elected and make it harder for people to have their say. Instead of exploiting our fear during challenging times, political leaders should do the opposite by listening to citizens’ concerns and ensuring that democracy survives the crisis unscathed.

Read related articles

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Civil Society in 2023: NGOs Still Left Out in the Cold

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