The world was battered in 2015 by overlapping crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These unsettling developments contributed to the tenth consecutive year of decline in global freedom. In 2015, a striking 72 countries showed declines in freedom on our 100-point scale, while only 43 made gains.
In 2015, the leading democracies displayed a lack of self-confidence and conviction. As the democracies of Europe and the United States struggled to cope with the Syrian civil war and other unresolved regional conflicts, the fighting generated unprecedented numbers of refugees and incubated terrorist groups that inspired or organized attacks on targets abroad. In democratic countries, these stresses led to populist, often bigoted reactions as well as new security measures, both of which threaten the core values of an open society. The year also saw China’s economy slow and global commodity prices plunge. Profligate, export-dependent authoritarian regimes were hit especially hard and, anticipating popular unrest, they redoubled political repression at home and lashed out at perceived foreign enemies.