Do civilians get a representative say in how the government is run where you live?
While it might seem like living with a basic level of democratic rights is the status quo, as Visual Capitalist's Iman Ghosh details below, this is only true for 93 countries or territories today—the majority of the world does not enjoy these rights.
It also might surprise you that much of the progress towards democracy came as late as the mid-20th century. This interactive map from Our World in Data paints a comprehensive picture of democratic rights across the globe.
Which Countries Achieved Democracy First?
The three famous first words in the U.S. Constitution—“We The People…”—paved the way for the birth of a federal democratic republic in 1789. This makes the United States of America the world’s oldest uninterrupted democracy today.
That said, the classification system in the interactive map above provides a slightly different perspective. It draws from the Regimes of the World (RoW) classification and the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project, and establishes four major classifications of political systems:
Citizens have further individual and minority rights, are equal before the law, and the actions of the executive are constrained by the legislative and the courts.
32 countries/territories in 2020
Citizens have the right to participate in meaningful, free and fair, and multi-party elections.
61 countries/territories in 2020
Citizens have the right to choose the chief executive and the legislature through multi-party elections; but they lack some freedoms, such as the freedoms of association or expression, that make the elections meaningful, free, and fair.
64 countries/territories in 2020
Citizens do not have the right to either choose the chief executive of the government or the legislature through multi-party elections.
42 countries/territories in 2020
Under the classification system used here, it’s arguable that Switzerland was the first country to achieve a fully liberal democracy status in 1849, followed by Australia in 1858.
The Least Democratic Countries
Our World in Data also looks at how the global population breaks down by political regime.
The following chart demonstrates the share of the global population living under each type of regime since 1800, in relative or absolute terms.
While the global population has increased tremendously in 200 years, so has the number of civilians living under stricter political systems. Today, 1.9 billion people live in closed autocracies, of which nearly 75% live in China alone.
The major dip observed at the very end of the above chart comes from India. According to the data source, the nation flipped from electoral democracy to electoral autocracy status in 2019. As the second-most populous country, this change affected nearly 1.4 billion people.
Finally, while the data in the above maps and charts ends in 2020, notable events have taken place in recent months that may affect the number of people living in different political regimes.
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-2021 caused the country to slide into closed autocracy status, and as the current conflict in Ukraine/Russia heats up, it’s possible that more people may find themselves living under non-democratic regimes going forward.