Democracy Doomed? The World’s 10 Strongest Democratic Governments

Pro-election democracy activists take part in a candlelight vigil backing democratic government in Bangkok.

Pro-election democracy activists take part in a candlelight vigil backing democratic government in Bangkok. | Rufus Cox/Getty Images

With President Donald Trump in the White House, it has become common to hear hysterics related to the death of democracy. There’s reason enough for that type of pearl-clutching. But the truth is American democracy has been in decline for some time. And it’s not just in the United States. Democratic government, across the world, is in dire straits. While we typically think of the U.S. as the “shining city on a hill” in terms of freedom and democracy, the world simply isn’t the same anymore.

Our country is still strong, however. And you shouldn’t expect democratic governments to go away. Democracy is a concept that’s been around for thousands of years, after all. Although there have been many valiant efforts to stamp out existing governments and install autocracies in many countries, there are still plenty of strong, democratic countries.

That includes the U.S. — though it doesn’t mean we can take it for granted.

The 2016 Democracy Index report from the Economist Intelligence Unit says democracy is, indeed, on the decline. Per the report, 72 countries saw democratic values erode in 2016 alone. “Almost one-half of the world’s countries can be considered to be democracies of some sort, but the number of “full democracies” has declined from 20 in 2015 to 19 in 2016,” the report said. “The U.S. has been downgraded from a ‘full democracy’ to a ‘flawed democracy’ because of a further erosion of trust in government and elected officials there.”

From the Economist Intelligence Unit’s report, here are the world’s strongest remaining democracies

10. Australia

view of the great ocean road in Australia

Aerial view of the Great Ocean Road in Australia |

Democracy is alive and well down under. Australia clocked in at No. 10 on the index, with its biggest ding in the scoring coming in the “political participation” category. Overall, however, Australia received a 9.01 out of 10. It actually received a perfect score for “civil liberties,” and, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, it’s one of the last remaining “full democracies.”

9. Finland

People celebrate outside the Finnish Parliament in Helsinki.

People celebrate outside the Finnish Parliament in Helsinki. | Mikko Stig/AFP/Getty Images

Finland lands at No. 9, also earning the “full democracy” title from the Economist Intelligence Group. The country earned an overall score of 9.03 (out of 10) to gain the edge over Australia. Finland earned a perfect 10 in the report in one category: “electoral process and pluralism.” Its lowest score, like Australia, was in the “political participation” category.

8. Switzerland

A town in the Swiss mountains

A town in the Swiss mountains |

The Swiss are famous for many things, and, according to this report, remaining as one of the world’s strongest democracies should be among them. Swiss chocolate might be sweet, but freedom is even sweeter, don’t you think? Overall, Switzerland earned a score of 9.09 — though it didn’t earn a perfect score in any particular category. Like the preceding nations, it also scored lowest in terms of political participation.

6/7 (tie). Ireland

A group of Irish men celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Dublin.

A group of Irish men celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin. | Paul Faith/Getty Images

The Emerald Isle ties for the next place as one of the world’s strongest democracies. Ireland earned a score of 9.15 from the Economist Intelligence Group, with perfect scores in both “civil liberties” and “political culture.” Ireland’s worst score was in the “functioning of government” category. For many Americans, the Irish are only celebrated on St. Patrick’s Day. But the country’s dedication to the preservation of democracy is another reason to admire it.

6/7 (tie). Canada

Sidney Crosby of Canada waves a national flag.

Sidney Crosby of Canada waves a national flag. | Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Spoiler alert: America is not on this list. But Canada, “America’s hat,” is. That’s gotta sting a little bit for any red-blooded American patriot, but the data don’t lie. Canada received an identical score to Ireland with 9.15 (out of 10). It received one perfect score in the civil liberties category. And like so many others on the list, its lowest score was in political participation.

5. Denmark

Danish police conducting spot checks

Danish police conduct spot checks. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The nations in Northern Europe make up the strongest grouping of democracies in the world. We’ll get to the others, but first, Denmark lands at No. 5. Denmark received a 9.2 out of 10 for its overall score but didn’t get any category perfect scores. Instead, it notched high marks all around. The country’s lowest score was an 8.33 in political participation.

4. New Zealand

Milford Sound in New Zealand

Milford Sound in New Zealand |

Australia landed lower on the list. But its island neighbor, New Zealand, landed even higher — all the way at No. 4. With an overall score of 9.26, New Zealand received perfect scores in two categories: “electoral process and pluralism” and “civil liberties.” Its lowest score, an 8.13, was in “political culture.” That, surprisingly, is the same score the U.S. received in that category.

3. Sweden

Swedish flag

Swedish flag | Harry Engels/Getty Images

We’re back in Northern Europe. Sweden takes the third spot, establishing itself as one of the world’s strongest democratic nations. The Swedes landed high on the list with a perfect score in one category: “political culture.” Sweden actually received high marks in all categories, with its lowest tally being an 8.33 in “political participation.” Evidently, it’s hard to get people involved no matter how strong your democracy is.

2. Iceland

Fans of Iceland at the 2014 World Cup

Fans of Iceland at the 2014 World Cup | Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Although they were the bad guys in The Mighty Ducks 2, Iceland is actually one of the world’s good guys. It’s so good, in fact, that the country is ranked as the world’s second strongest democracy. Iceland received two perfect scores in the categories, “electoral process and pluralism” and “political culture.” Its worst score was in the category, “functioning of government,” with an 8.93.

1. Norway

A Norwegian Olympian celebrates with her country's flag

A Norwegian Olympian celebrates with her country’s flag. | Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The world’s new “shining city on the hill,” at least in terms of democracies per the Economist, is Norway. We tend to think of Norway as a quasi-socialist nation, but evidently, democracy is alive and well. Out of the five categories scored, Norway received perfect 10s in four of them. The only one it missed? “Functioning of government,” in which it got a 9.64. Overall, the report gives Norway a 9.93.

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