Subjective and Objective Measurement of Democratic Backsliding

65 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2023

See all articles by Andrew Little

Andrew Little

University of California, Berkeley

Anne Meng

University of Virginia

Date Written: January 17, 2023


Despite the general narrative that we are in a period of global democratic decline, there have been surprisingly few empirical studies to assess whether this is systematically true. Most existing studies of backsliding rely heavily, if not entirely, on subjective indicators which rely on expert coder judgement. We survey other more objective indicators of democracy (such as incumbent performance in elections), and find little evidence of global democratic decline over the last decade. To explain the discrepancy between trends in subjective and objective indicators, we develop formal models that consider the role of coder bias and leaders strategically using more subtle undemocratic action. The simplest explanation is that recent declines in average democracy scores are driven by changes in coder bias. While we cannot rule out the possibility that the world is experiencing major democratic backsliding almost exclusively in ways which require subjective judgement to detect, this claim not justified by existing evidence.

Keywords: democratic backsliding, democratic erosion, democracy, elections, measurement

Suggested Citation

Little, Andrew and Meng, Anne, Subjective and Objective Measurement of Democratic Backsliding (January 17, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Andrew Little

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Anne Meng (Contact Author)

University of Virginia ( email )

1400 University Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics