The construction of the dataset takes advantage of a unique opportunity: partnership with a multi-university course on Democratic Erosion. The dataset was constructed by aggregating and coding narrative country case studies authored by students enrolled in a Democratic Erosion course. Twenty-three professors have taught such a course across the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years. Students were instructed to select their case study topic from a list of 92 countries identified as potential backsliders using measures of governance from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) dataset (Coppedge et al., 2017).
The Varieties of Democracy country-year dataset (Coppedge et al. 2017) is first constrained to the years 2000-2018. Then, because we are looking for cases of democratic erosion, we define democratic backsliding as originating in a country-year in which the country is coded as either an electoral or liberal democracy. To identify countries-years that qualify as minimal electoral democracies, we use the Regimes in the World index (e_v2x_regime), coded for all years within the study period. We code a country-year, t, as backsliding if the country received a lower score on the Liberal Democracy Index in year t than in year t-1. In addition, the country had to receive a score of at least 2 on the Regimes in the World index (indicating an electoral democracy) in year t-1 and a score of at least 1 in year t. The full coding of this variable is as follows.
- 0: Closed autocracy: No de-facto multiparty elections for the chief executive.
- 1: Electoral autocracy: De-facto multiparty elections for the chief executive, but failing to achieve a minimum level of Dahl’s institutional prerequisites of polyarchy as measured by V-Dem’s Electoral Democracy Index (v2x_polyarchy).
- 2: Electoral democracy: Free and fair multiparty elections and a minimum level of Dahl’s institutional prerequisites for polyarchy as measured by VDem’s Electoral Democracy Index (v2x_polyarchy), but liberal principles of respect for personal liberties, rule of law, and judicial as well as legislative constraints on the executive not satisfied as measured by VDem’s Liberal Component Index (v2x_liberal).
- 3: Liberal democracy: Free and fair multiparty elections and a minimum level of Dahl’s institutional prerequisites for polyarchy as measured by VDem’s Electoral Democracy Index (v2x_polyarchy), and liberal principles of respect for personal liberties, rule of law, and judicial as well as legislative constraints on the executive satisfied as measured by V-Dem’s Liberal Component Index (v2x_liberal).
In formulating consistent variable categories, a fundamental difference was observed between events that seemed to be leading to severe erosion, or precursors, and events where erosion had been institutionalized, or symptoms of erosion. The precursors were split into civic, economic, political, institutional, and violent/security events with a final “other” category to capture events inconsistent with other subcategories. The symptoms were split into a reduction in vertical accountability, horizontal accountability, and a change in societal norms. Lastly, there were a number of events in the case studies in which citizens resisted these forms of erosion. To capture them, the team considered resistance as the antithesis to symptoms of erosion, coding such events as resistance to horizontal accountability, resistance to vertical accountability, or “other.”
In addition, only dynamic events were coded, thereby excluding “static” events. For example, if inequality had been a consistent challenge, it was not coded, but if there was a sudden increase in inequality the event would be coded. Our final event framework is depicted in Table 1 below. Following this, we briefly describe the theoretical background of each of these subcategories.
|Threats to horizontal accountability|
Delegitimizing or weakening the judiciary
Delegitimizing or weakening the legislature
Delegitimizing or weakening subnational units
Manipulation of civil service
Coup or regime collapse
|Reduction in horizontal accountability|
Reduction in judicial independence
Reduction in legislative oversight
Weakened civil service or integrity institutions
Suspension of laws or the constitution
Relaxation of term limits
Revision of the constitution
Reduction autonomy of subnational units
|Increase in horizontal accountability|
Check on executive by judiciary
Check on executive by legislature
Check on central power by subnational units
Check on central power by civil service
Post-democratic transition to new constitution
|Threats to vertical accountability|
Co-optation of the opposition
Increasing control over civil society
State-conducted violence or abuse
Lack of legitimacy
|Reduction in vertical accountability|
Repression of the opposition
Systemic reduction in election freedom and fairness
Curtailed civil liberties
No-confidence votes or decreased voter turnout
|Increase in vertical accountability|
Coalitions or elite pacts
Increase in electoral integrity
Increase in civic capacity
Increase in media protections/media liberalization
|Exogenous Risk Factors|
Pressure from outside actor
Exit of people or money
State attempts to prevent backsliding
With the variable categories defined, the team created a coding instrument in Google Forms to streamline the process of coding all student case studies. In coding each narrative case study, per the above categorization scheme, team members noted:
- Event type (i.e. precursor, symptom, or resistance)
- Year(s) of the event
- Whether there was a reason to doubt the veracity of the evidence
- If so, why?
- Whether the event related to horizontal accountability, vertical accountability, or other
- The precursor, symptom, and resistance subtype
- Any outstanding questions or concerns
- Final ranking on a five-point scale assessing the severity of the described backsliding
For further information on coding procedure and event categories, see the codebook below: