Old Autocracy or Something New?: Conceptualizing and Measuring Democratic Erosion and Overcoming It

11 December 2023, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


Existing measurements of democratic erosion (DE) do not necessarily start with adequate conceptual-theoretical scrutiny and insufficiently incorporate DE’s distinguishing features into operationalizing it. We review existing measurements, offer a definition based on the constitutive characteristics of DE and the roles of oppositions and institutions, and develop new measurement criteria. We show how this changes the population of DE cases in large- and small-N comparative analysis. We argue that recovery from DE should be conceptualized and measured separately from reversals and near-misses, and identify corresponding country episodes. Successful reversals of DE seem to be scarce, and none for countries that endured more than ten years of DE. Successful recoveries is also a small, if not null set. Exceptions are, technically but not necessarily substantively, Ecuador, and substantively but not yet technically, Moldova. DE is a new type of autocratization and polities may need time to learn how to counter it.


Democratic erosion
Democratic backsliding
Democratic resilience
Democratic recovery
Democratic reversal
near misses
Democratic oppositions


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