In 2016, established democracies figured prominently on the list of countries experiencing declines in freedom, while emboldened autocracies stepped up their repression at home and interference abroad.
In 2015, the tenth consecutive year of decline in global freedom, the world was battered by overlapping crises, spurring harsh authoritarian crackdowns and revealing the leading democracies’ lack of conviction.
In a year marked by escalating terrorism, the use of more brutal repression by authoritarian regimes, and Russia’s annexation of a neighboring country’s territory, the state of freedom worsened significantly in nearly every part of the world.
Civil-liberties scores have notably declined over the past several years, while political-rights scores have slightly improved—perhaps because modern authoritarians have begun to adopt subtler means of repression. Overall, however, freedom experienced a global decline for the eighth straight year in 2013.
Although declines in freedom outnumbered gains yet again in 2012, the year was not without some significant progress, most notably in the case of Libya.
Although in 2011 declines in freedom exceeded gains for the sixth straight year, the uprisings in the Arab world represent the most significant challenge to authoritarian rule since the collapse of Soviet communism.
The past decade began at a high point for freedom but ended with freedom in peril. Yet the setbacks of the last five years do not outweigh the democratic gains of the last forty.
Although the overall state of freedom in the world has clearly improved over the last two decades, more recent trends are worrisome. In 2009, declines in freedom outnumbered gains for the fourth consecutive year.
Although 2008 was marked by democratic setbacks as well as authoritarian “pushback” against reformers, democracy remains the only system of government that commands global respect.
Authoritarian pushback continued to affect key regions and countries in 2007, but the courage, energy, and creativity that democrats continued to show gives reason to think that their cause has brighter days ahead.