The Myth of Democratic Recession

Issue Date January 2015
Volume 26
Issue 1
Page Numbers 45-58
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Contrary to widespread belief, there is no global “democratic recession.” Despite less favorable international conditions, levels of democracy in the world remained stable in the 2000s. Perceptions of democratic recession originate in excessive post–Cold War optimism, rooted in the successful democratizations of the 1980s. During the early 1990s, economic crisis, weakened states, and external pressure forced many autocrats to abandon power or tolerate opposition. These authoritarian crises were widely viewed as democratic transitions, even though most were not. Subsequent authoritarian (re)consolidation was thus perceived as democratic “backsliding.” Misplaced pessimism was reinforced by disappointment over non-democratization in China, the Middle East, and elsewhere, despite the fact that most remaining dictatorships existed amid highly unfavorable conditions for democratization.