Three basic warnings: US sinks to new low in rankings of world's democracies
The US has fallen to a new low in a global ranking of political rights and civil liberties, a drop fueled by unequal treatment of minority groups, damaging influence of money in politics, and increased polarization, according to a new report by Freedom House, a democracy watchdog group. The US earned 83 out of 100 possible points this year in Freedom House’s annual rankings of freedoms around the world, an 11-point drop from its ranking of 94 a decade ago.
The US’s new ranking places it on par with countries like Panama, Romania and Croatia and behind countries such as Argentina and Mongolia. It lagged far behind countries like the United Kingdom (93), Chile (93), Costa Rica (91) and Slovakia (90).
The nordic trio of Finland, Sweden, and Norway were the only countries getting full marks at 100 points. America's neighbour to the north, Canada, came in at 98 points.
“Dropping 11 points is unusual, especially for an established democracy, because they tend to be more stable in our scores,” Sarah Repucci, Freedom House’s vice-president for research and analysis, told the Guardian.
“It’s significant for Americans and it’s significant for the world, because the United States is such a prominent, visible democracy, one that is looked to for so many reasons.”
While Freedom House has long included the US in its global ranking of freedoms, it traditionally has not turned an eye inward and focused on US democracy. But this year, Repucci authored an extensive report doing just that, a move motivated by increasing concern over attacks on freedoms in the US.
The report details the inequities that minority groups, especially Black people and Native Americans face when it comes to the criminal justice system and voting. It also illustrates that public trust in government has been damaged by the way rich Americans can use their money to exert outsize influence on American politics.
And it points out that extreme partisan gerrymandering – the manipulation of electoral district lines to boost one party over the other – has contributed to dramatic polarization in the US, threatening its democratic foundations. Gerrymandering, the report says, “has the most corrosive and radicalizing effect on US politics”.
“We’re really concerned about these longer-term challenges that aren’t going to be addressed with quick fixes, that were kind of highlighted during the Trump administration and, in some cases, taken advantage of, by that administration.” Repucci said. “A change of president is not gonna make them go away.”
The report offers three recommendations for improving American democracy: removing barriers to voting, limiting the influence of money in politics, and establishing independent redistricting commissions. Democrats in Washington are pushing all three of those reforms as part of a sweeping voting package currently under consideration in the US Senate.
“Americans should see it as a wake-up call,” Repucci said. “American democracy is still strong and we still have a lot going for us especially in the strength of our institutions and in the mobilization that is possible among the population. I do think that these problems can be solved and people should take heart in that.”
Freedom House usually does not write a report focusing on the ins and outs of American democracy, but did so this year because of the stark developments that came at the detriment of freedom.
These developments include the racial inequality in voting and criminal justice, with Black and Native Americans being most acutely affected. That public trust in the government has been eroded thanks to the ways wealthier Americans used their finances to buy influence is another factor in the point-drop.
Partisan gerrymandering, meaning the process of drawing districts in a way that benefit one party over another, has lead to levels of polarization so high that it's a threat to democracy, the report argues.
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