A man carries a Confederate flag through the U.S. Capitol building during the insurrection on Wednesday, January 6, 2021.
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As the United States recognizes the one year anniversary of the attempted coup at the Capitol, many are asking if our American democracy remains intact. For some experts, the answer is no, and the chilling reality is that our democratic republic has been in decline since even before the events of January 6, 2021.

European think-tank International IDEA has officially labeled the United States as a “backsliding democracy” in a recent report. The report included five considerations: representative government, fundamental rights, checks on government, impartial administration and participatory engagement.

Meanwhile, the United States is not the only country to face a decline in democracy. According to International IDEA, at least 25% of the world’s people live in “democratically backwards” countries, and combined with countries who support non-democratic policies, more than ? of the world’s population live in such a manner.  

Democracy in decline

For the United States, the decline in democracy hit a crescendo when twice-impeached former President Donald J. Trump began to promote The Big Lie, that the 2020 election he lost was fraudulent. Many of his GOP supporters and fans agree, despite President Biden’s historic win by over seven million votes.

Even before the former President insisted that he actually won the election, experts noted a shift from democracy to authoritarianism, prior to the 2018 midterm elections. “What we see for the U.S. is a decline in effective parliament. And we saw that decline particularly up until the 2018 midterm elections,” wrote the author of International IDEA’s report, Annika Silva-Leander.

Meanwhile, since those midterm elections, GOP members of Congress and state policy-makers have rammed through bills that restrict voting rights for marginalized populations and limit the ability of people to participate in free and fair elections. Many experts warn that such legislation impedes the progression of democracy and leads to threats of authoritarianism that must be addressed by Congress and state politicians. 

Areas of improvement: more voter participation

Some note that the hyper-partisan nature of current politics is to blame. Such “us vs them” considerations lead to political gridlock across many aspects of democracy, including Congress’ inability to pass legislation that is held up by one party or another. 

However, the United States still has opportunities to address and promote democracy, particularly through its elections. Despite bills restricting voting rights, “We’ve seen increasing levels of electoral participation in the U.S., particularly in the last elections,” said Silva-Leander of International IDEA.

In the 2020 election, “we saw a seven percent increase of voter turnout, which marks the highest turnout in any federal election in the U.S. since at least 1980. So that’s one very positive development — that there is more political engagement and more participation in elections.”

Such electoral participation – even in the midst of barriers to voting – is just one way that the population can help bring democracy back to the U.S. Other ways include demanding that our elected officials truly represent the needs of our people, and address the racism and white supremacy that echoes in legislation across the country, such as bills that limit the teaching of Critical Race Theory, and banning books in educational systems. 

To register to vote, go to vote.gov for information on your state’s voting policies.

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...

One reply on “Experts: American democracy is in decline”

  1. Truly appreciate this article. As an advocate for voting strategies that can help ensure that people vote, your thoughts enhance my tool chest! Thanks!

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