Misunderstanding Democratic Backsliding

Issue Date July 2024
Volume 35
Issue 3
Page Numbers 24–37
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One of the most common explanations of the ongoing wave of global democratic backsliding is that democracies are failing to deliver adequate socioeconomic goods to their citizens, leading voters to forsake democracy and embrace antidemocratic politicians who undermine democracy once elected. Yet a close look at twelve important cases of recent backsliding casts doubt on this thesis, finding that while it has some explanatory power in some cases, it has little in others, and even where it applies, it requires nuanced interpretation. Backsliding is less a result of democracies failing to deliver than of democracies failing to constrain the predatory political ambitions and methods of certain elected leaders. Policymakers and aid providers seeking to limit backsliding should tailor their diplomatic and aid interventions accordingly. 

About the Authors

Thomas Carothers

Thomas Carothers is the Harvey V. Fineberg Chair and director of the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His most recent book is Democracies Divided: The Global Challenge of Political Polarization (2019, coedited with Andrew O’Donohue).

View all work by Thomas Carothers

Brendan Hartnett

Brendan Hartnett is a James C. Gaither Junior Fellow in Carnegie’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program.

View all work by Brendan Hartnett

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