Democratic backsliding

Definition & Introduction

Democratic backsliding, a phenomenon sometimes characterized as an “erosion,” is the process of declining integrity for democratic values or institutions in a political system.

In a recent essay published in Carnegie Council’s Ethics & International Affairs journal, Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq write, “This struggle over the endurance of meaningful democratic choice in the United States is but one chapter in a larger story of contemporary challenges to democratic norms playing out slowly across the globe.” They identify charismatic popularism and partisan degradation as two forces known to drive democratic backsliding, and these forces are occurring in many countries all over the globe.

In 2021, Carnegie Council President Joel Rosenthal hosted a virtual panel discussing the rise of illiberal democracy in Brazil, Hungary, and India. Brown University’s Prerna Singh pointed out that backsliding is often manifested in 1) the crackdown on civil liberties such as free speech and 2) in discrimination or hostility towards religious or ethnic minorities.

Explore essays, podcasts, and past events below analyzing the impact of democratic backsliding and potential avenues to restore and renew democratic values.

How to Renew and Rebuild After a Brush with Authoritarianism

Over the past few years, many democracies worldwide have faced a grave threat from authoritarian forces. Illiberal powers have attempted to subvert institutions in countries like Brazil, Sri Lanka, and the United States. This virtual panel builds on a roundtable featured in the latest edition of the Ethics & International Affairs journal, which focuses on reimagining liberal constitutional democracy.

Listen to the podcast
Voting sticker

CREDIT: Manny Becerra on Unsplash

The Pragmatics of Democratic “Front-Sliding”

When a democracy survives a close encounter with authoritarianism, the road to recovery can be long and arduous. What does "front-sliding," the process of rebuilding necessary components of democracy, look like and how might it be accomplished?

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How would you categorize your feelings about the global state of democracy?

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United States Capitol. CREDIT: <a href="">John Brighenti</a> <a href="">(CC)</a>
United States Capitol. CREDIT: John Brighenti (CC)

Are Americans Facing an Undemocratic Future?

A few months after the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, Carnegie Council President Joel Rosenthal spoke with Yale University’s Jason Stanley about the state of democracy in America and beyond. How can the U.S. and other countries undo damage done to democratic institutions?

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Additional Resources

Understanding and Responding to Global Democratic Backsliding

As the world faces a democratic recession, many of the most common explanations fall short.


The Nature of Democratic Backsliding in Europe

This 2018 article, part of the Reshaping European Democracy project, analyzes Europe’s relationship to democratic backsliding.


Democracy vs. Autocracy: Key Terms Resource

How can democracy and autocracy be compared? Should they be compared at all? Learn more about how these political systems differ.


How Democracy Backslides: Tracing the Pathways in Six Countries

Prepared for the Panel “Division 44: Democracy and Autocracy” at the Virtual Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).