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News / October 20, 2023

Telling the Story of Global Democratic Trends Across the Academic-Practitioner Divide


Several academic and “pracademic” datasets tracking democratic trends have been published as an open source with the aim of facilitating research and learning, as well as improving democracy assistance. The story the data tells is currently quite bleak with the level of democracy in decline over the last decade, with more autocracies than liberal democracies in 2022 (Papada et al., 2023). At the American Evaluation Association’s 2023 Conference, the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) shared the story of democratic erosion as conveyed through academic datasets, as well as the experiences and data of practitioners. Both academics and practitioners agree that we are seeing a global trend of democratic decline driven by information deficits and degrading freedom of expression. However, practitioners emphasize the challenge of weakening democratic institutions in the face of autocratic attacks, while academics highlight the role of citizen participation and deliberative democracy. 

CEPPS colleagues and partners unpack the story of democratic erosion.

The Evolution of Measures of Democracy 

On the cutting edge of nuanced and multidimensional democratic indices is the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project. Their dataset, first released in 2016, boasts historical time-series data going back to the year 1900, coded by a global network of 3,700 country experts. Through interactive dashboards and a variety of reports, V-Dem provides a historical and academic perspective on the story of democratic consolidation, and more recently, backsliding. While assessed as outperforming other measures of democracy such as Polity IV or the Freedom House Index (Boese, 2019), the academic perspective articulated through statistical analysis of V-Dem data has come under recent critique for “the ways in which academic research relates to the outside world” and its emphasis on liberal versus pluralistic or non-Western democratic norms (Wolff, 2022, Little and Meng, 2023). Likewise, V-Dem and other commonly employed academic data measures of democracy are high-level, slow-moving, and updated infrequently (annually or less often). Further, they lack complementary, qualitative descriptions to aid interpretation, thus, limiting their utility for real-time storytelling, or informing targeted democratic assistance.  

An Alternative Practitioner Perspective 

Recognizing this gap, in 2019, CEPPS experimented with building a global democratic trends dataset. The data collection approach was refined in 2022 based on practitioner focus groups across six geographic regions and a systematic desk review of democratic trends across academic literature and practitioner reports. Throughout 2023, approximately 150 practitioners, working directly on democracy assistance programs, provided quarterly data for more than 60 countries. While not as comprehensive in its reach, or as sophisticated in its methodology, the dataset addresses some of the utility limitations of V-Dem and other academic democracy measures. Specifically, it is collected and analyzed quarterly rather than annually, includes both quantitative and qualitative observations from practitioners in the field, and purports to capture mid-level leading indicators of democratic shifts.   

Key Take-Aways 

  • The overarching storyline is the same: Academics and practitioners generally agree that there is a concerning trend toward democratic erosion globally. 
  • Regimes of the MENA region continue to be the least democratic, relative to other regions, across both datasets. 
  • Information deficits, represented by the CEPPS information integrity and V-Dem freedom of expression indices, show the most dramatic downward trends in both datasets. 
  • While V-Dem academics identify a second key contributor to decline in several indicators under the deliberative component index, which measures if public reasoning is inclusive and focuses on the common good, CEPPS practitioners find troubling signs of weakening institutions and an imbalance of power across branches as autocrats and elected leaders centralize decision-making.  

These findings, largely consistent across the academic-practitioner divide, underscore the importance of democracy assistance in an era of growing uncertainty. They also suggest that assistance should focus on ensuring information integrity and supporting the independence and balance of power across democratic institutions 


Boese, Vanessa A. 2019. How (not) to measure democracy. International Area Studies Review, 22(2), 95-127.  
Coppedge, Michael, John Gerring, Adam Glynn, Carl-Henrik Knutsen, Staffan I. Lindberg, Daniel Pemstein, Brigitte Seim, Svend-Erik Skaaning, and Jan Teorell. 2020. “Varieties of Democracy: Measuring Two Centuries of Political Change.” Cambridge University Press. 
Coppedge, Michael, John Gerring, Carl Henrik Knutsen, Staffan I. Lindberg, Jan Teorell, David Altman, Michael Bernhard, Agnes Cornell, M. Steven Fish, Lisa Gastaldi, Haakon Gjerløw, Adam Glynn, Ana Good God, Sandra Grahn, Allen Hicken, Katrin Kinzelbach, Joshua Krusell, Kyle L. Marquardt, Kelly McMann, Valeriya Mechkova, Juraj Medzihorsky, Natalia Natsika, Anja Neundorf, Pamela Paxton, Daniel Pemstein, Josefine Pernes, Oskar Ryd´en, Johannes von R¨omer, Brigitte Seim, Rachel Sigman, Svend-Erik Skaaning, Jeffrey Staton, Aksel Sundstr¨om, Eitan Tzelgov, Yi-ting Wang, Tore Wig, Steven Wilson and Daniel Ziblatt. 2023. “V-Dem [Country-Year/Country-Date] Dataset v13” Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project. 
Coppedge, Michael, John Gerring, Carl Henrik Knutsen, Staffan I. Lindberg, Jan Teorell, Kyle L. Marquardt, Juraj Medzihorsky, Daniel Pemstein, Lisa Gastaldi, Sandra Grahn, Josefine Pernes, Oskar Rydén, Johannes von Römer, Eitan Tzelgov, Yi-ting Wang, and Steven Wilson. 2023. “V-Dem Methodology v13” Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project. 
Little, Andrew, and Anne Meng. 2023. “Subjective and Objective Measurement of Democratic Backsliding.” Working paper. 
Papada, Evie, David Altman, Fabio Angiolillo, Lisa Gastaldi, Tamara Köhler, Martin Lundstedt, Natalia Natsika, Marina Nord, Yuko Sato, Felix Wiebrecht, and Staffan I. Lindberg. 2023. Defiance in the Face of Autocratization. Democracy Report 2023. University of Gothenburg: Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem Institute).   
Pemstein, Daniel, Kyle L. Marquardt, Eitan Tzelgov, Yi-ting Wang, Juraj Medzihorsky, Joshua Krusell, Farhad Miri, and Johannes von Römer. 2023. “The V-Dem Measurement Model: Latent Variable Analysis for Cross-National and Cross-Temporal Expert-Coded Data.” V-Dem Working Paper No. 21. 8th edition. University of Gothenburg: Varieties of Democracy Institute.  
Wolff, Jonas. 2022. From the Varieties of Democracy to the defense of liberal democracy: V-Dem and the reconstitution of liberal hegemony under threat, Contemporary Politics, 1-21. DOI: 10.1080/13569775.2022.2096191. 
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