Since c. 2010, the number of countries autocratizing (blue) is higher than those democratizing (yellow).

A democratic transition describes a phase in a country's political system as a result of an ongoing change from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one.[1][2][3] The process is known as democratisation, political changes moving in a democratic direction.[4] Democratization waves have been linked to sudden shifts in the distribution of power among the great powers, which created openings and incentives to introduce sweeping domestic reforms.[5][6] Although transitional regimes experience more civil unrest,[7][8] they may be considered stable in a transitional phase for decades at a time.[9][10][11] Since the end of the Cold War transitional regimes have become the most common form of government.[12][13] Scholarly analysis of the decorative nature of democratic institutions concludes that the opposite democratic backsliding (autocratization), a transition to authoritarianism is the most prevalent basis of modern hybrid regimes.[14][15][16]



Main article: Autocratization

Further information: Democratic backsliding by country

Countries autocratizing (red) or democratizing (blue) substantially and significantly (2010–2020), according to V-Dem Institute. Countries in grey are substantially unchanged.[17]

Democratic backsliding[a] is a process of regime change toward autocracy that makes the exercise of political power by the public more arbitrary and repressive.[24][25][26] This process typically restricts the space for public contestation and political participation in the process of government selection.[27][28] Democratic decline involves the weakening of democratic institutions, such as the peaceful transition of power or free and fair elections, or the violation of individual rights that underpin democracies, especially freedom of expression.[29][30] Democratic backsliding is the opposite of democratization.

Proposed causes of democratic backsliding include economic inequality, culturally conservative reactions to societal changes, populist or personalist politics, and external influence from great power politics. During crises, backsliding can occur when leaders impose autocratic rules during states of emergency that are either disproportionate to the severity of the crisis or remain in place after the situation has improved.[31]

While regime change through military coups has declined since the end of the Cold War, more subtle forms of backsliding have increased. During the third wave of democratization in the late twentieth century, many new, weakly institutionalized democracies were established; these regimes have been most vulnerable to democratic backsliding.[32][30] The third wave of autocratization has been ongoing since 2010, when the number of liberal democracies was at an all-time high.[33][34] One quarter of the world's population lives under democratically backsliding hybrid regimes as of 2021.[35]


Main article: Democratization

Map showing democratization of countries after the Cold War

Democratization, or democratisation, is the structural government transition from an authoritarian government to a more democratic political regime, including substantive political changes moving in a democratic direction.[36][37]

Whether and to what extent democratization occurs can be influenced by various factors, including economic development, historical legacies, civil society, and international processes. Some accounts of democratization emphasize how elites drove democratization, whereas other accounts emphasize grassroots bottom-up processes.[38] How democratization occurs has also been used to explain other political phenomena, such as whether a country goes to a war or whether its economy grows.[39]

The opposite process is known as democratic backsliding or autocratization.



Main article: Decolonization

Map of the year each country achieved independence.
Except for a few absolute monarchies, most post-colonial states are either republics or constitutional monarchies. These new states had to devise constitutions, electoral systems, and other institutions of representative democracy.

Democratic globalization

Main article: Democratic globalization

Democratic globalization is a social movement towards an institutional system of global democracy.[40] One of its proponents is the British political thinker David Held. In the last decade, Held published a dozen books regarding the spread of democracy from territorially defined nation states to a system of global governance that encapsulates the entire world. For some, democratic mundialisation (from the French term mondialisation) is a variant of democratic globalisation stressing the need for the direct election of world leaders and members of global institutions by citizens worldwide; for others, it is just another name for democratic globalisation.[41]

Democracy promotion

Main article: Democracy promotion

Democracy promotion, also referred to as democracy building, can be domestic policy to increase the quality of already existing democracy or a strand of foreign policy adopted by governments and international organizations that seek to support the spread of democracy as a system of government. In practice, it entails consolidating and building democratic institutions


Democratic consolidation

Main article: Democratic consolidation

Democratic consolidation is the process by which a new democracy matures, in a way that it becomes unlikely to revert to authoritarianism without an external shock, and is regarded as the only available system of government within a country.[42][43] A country can be described as consolidated when the current democratic system becomes “the only game in town”,[44] meaning no one in the country is trying to act outside of the set institutions.[45] This is the case when no significant political group seriously attempts to overthrow the democratic regime, the democratic system is regarded as the most appropriate way to govern by the vast majority of the public, and all political actors are accustomed to the fact that conflicts are resolved through established political and constitutional rules.[46][47]

Stalled transition

Hybrid regime

Main article: Hybrid regime

A hybrid regime[b] is a type of political system often created as a result of an incomplete democratic transition from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one (or vice versa).[c] Hybrid regimes are categorized as having a combination of autocratic features with democratic ones and can simultaneously hold political repressions and regular elections.[c] Hybrid regimes are commonly found in developing countries with abundant natural resources such as petro-states.[65][55][66] Although these regimes experience civil unrest, they may be relatively stable and tenacious for decades at a time.[c] There has been a rise in hybrid regimes since the end of the Cold War.[67][68]


Main article: Democracy indices

Global trend report Bertelsmann Transformation Index 2022[69]

The democracies indices differ in whether they are categorical, such as classifying countries into democracies, hybrid regimes, and autocracies,[70][71] or continuous values.[72] The qualitative nature of democracy indices enables data analytical approaches for studying causal mechanisms of regime transformation processes.

Democracy indices differ in scope and weighting of different aspects of democracy, including the breadth of core democratic institutions, competitiveness and inclusiveness of polyarchy, freedom of expression, various aspects of governance, democratic norm transgressions, co-option of opposition, electoral system manipulation, electoral fraud, and popular support of anti-democratic alternatives.[73][74][75]

See also


  1. ^ Other names include autocratization, democratic decline,[18] de-democratization,[19] democratic erosion,[20] democratic decay,[21] democratic recession,[22] democratic regression,[18] and democratic deconsolidation.[23]
  2. ^ Scholars uses a variety of terms to encompass the "greyzones" between full autocracies and full democracies:[48] such as competitive authoritarianism or semi-authoritarianism or hybrid authoritarianism or electoral authoritarianism or liberal autocracy or delegative democracy or illiberal democracy or guided democracy or semi-democracy or deficient democracy or defective democracy or hybrid democracy.[49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56]
  3. ^ a b c "Some scholars argue that deficient democracies and deficient autocracies can be seen as examples of hybrid regimes, whereas others argue that hybrid regimes combine characteristics of both democratic and autocratic regimes."[50] Scholars also debate if these regimes are in transition or are inherently a stable political system.[57][58][59][60][61][62][63][64]


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Further reading