Measuring Democratic Backsliding

Little, Andrew and Meng, Anne. 2024. "PS: Political Science & Politics"

13 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2023 Last revised: 16 Jan 2024

See all articles by Andrew Little

Andrew Little

University of California, Berkeley

Anne Meng

University of Virginia

Date Written: July 18, 2023


Despite the general narrative that we are in a period of global democratic decline, there have been surprisingly few empirical studies which assess whether this is systematically true. Most existing studies of backsliding are based largely, if not entirely, on subjective indicators which rely on expert coder judgement. We survey 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 in trends between expert-coded and objective indicators, we consider the role of coder bias and leaders strategically using more subtle undemocratic action. While we cannot rule out the possibility that the world is experiencing major democratic backsliding exclusively in ways which require subjective judgement to detect, this claim is not justified by existing evidence.

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

Suggested Citation

Little, Andrew and Meng, Anne, Measuring Democratic Backsliding (July 18, 2023). Little, Andrew and Meng, Anne. 2024. "PS: Political Science & Politics", 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

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