There have been several ebbs and flows in the amount of democratic nations in the past few centuries, and many of which are the results of world events and other far-reaching moments in history. As we have seen in the past, the amount of democratic nations in the world is dependent on current world events. The first major dip in the amount of democratic nations occurred during the Great Depression and the worldwide economic problems that stemmed from this. Economic despair created an environment where desperate citizens were more likely to denounce the current form of governance and adopt a new form. A few decades after, when World War II ended, many countries adopted democratic constitutions, either through pressure from the Allied powers or the people acting on their own accord. The second major dip in the amount of democratic nations worldwide occurred during the 1960’s and 1970’s, when global support for authoritarianism rose and unpopular wars in Asia were waged.
We now find ourselves in what could be argued is a third major dip in the amount of democratic nations worldwide. Part of the blame for this can be placed on the Great Recession in 2008 and the subsequent economic hardship that some countries around the world are still trying to recover from. Another unequivocal factor for the current state of democratic backsliding is the U.S.’ and its allies’ response to the war on terror, a military campaign that became increasingly unpopular as the years passed. There are several other factors in contemporary society that can be argued to have had an effect on the current state that we find ourselves in: the January 6th insurrection, the rise of China, and the doubt cast on electoral results in the 2020 election cycle. These, and others, certainly played a role to hurt the public perception of western style democracy in the world’s view. The dip that the world finds itself in is a result of all of these world events combined. In a New York Times article published in November 2021, Seva Gunitsky, a University of Toronto political scientist said “it would be too easy to say this can all be explained by Trump, data indicates that the trend accelerated during his presidency but predated it.” Instead, “scholars say this backsliding is likely driven by longer-term forces. Declining faith in the United States as a model to aspire to. Declining faith in democracy itself, whose image has been tarnished by a series of 21st century shocks. Decades of American policy prioritizing near-term issues like counterterrorism.”
The global public perception of western-style (or American style) democracy has slowly been weakening, as is backed up by a recent Pew Research Center study. The survey found that “very few in any public surveyed think American democracy is a good example for other countries to follow. On average, only 17 percent of people in surveyed countries called U.S. democracy worth emulating, while 23 percent said it had never offered a good example.” These numbers are worrisome for a hegemonic power, and especially for a country that had earned a reputation for being a beacon of democracy. Much of this stems from the aforementioned events, as well as domestic issues that plague American society: mass shootings, democratic distrust and polarization, and racial injustice. If the United States is unable to solve its own domestic problems, and no other democratic countries are able to better represent a “beacon of democracy”, then this democratic backsliding is bound to continue. For the public’s perception of American-style democracy to improve, the United States must first work out its own flaws. Without internal improvement first, the overall goal of increasing democracy, which has been a central part of the United States’ foreign policy for decades, seems impossible.
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