Spain remains among the group of full democracies despite the largest global decline highlighted in ‘The Economist Democracy Index’
2/4/2021 |


It scores 8.12 points and is ranked in 22nd position against a global backdrop of democratic deterioration caused by the restrictions associated with COVID-19

The outbreak of Covid-19 has shaken up health systems, societies and economies all over the world. This also applies to political systems, which has caused an “unprecedented decline in democratic liberties in 2020”, according to the latest Democracy Index of ‘The Economist Intelligence Unit’.

Faced with a bad year for democracy around the world, Spain has shown the strength of its more than 40 years of democracy and once again figures among the most advanced democratic systems on the planet. With a score of 8.12 points out of 10, Spain is ranked in 22nd position (out of 167 countries and territories) in the index, thus remaining in the privileged bloc of the only 23 full democracies in the world, which account for 13.8% of all countries and 8.4% of the world’s population. The vast majority of countries are described by ‘The Economist’ as imperfect democracies (51 countries where 41% of the population live), authoritarian regimes (57 countries that are home to 35.6% of the world’s population) or hybrid regimes (35 States where 15% of the world’s population live).

Covid-19 causes a decline in democracy

However, Spain has dropped four positions in the global ranking and 0.06 points compared with 2019, from 18th to 22nd position and from 8.18 to 8.12 points. A slight loss of points, similar to other peer countries, even among the leaders of the ranking: Norway, in first position, has dropped from 9.87 points in 2019 to 9.81 in this year’s edition; Iceland, from 9.58 to 9.37 points; and Sweden, from 9.39 to 9.26 points. Our neighbours – France and Portugal – have even dropped out of the group of full democracies: France has fallen from 20th to 24th position and Portugal from 22nd to 26th. The group of imperfect democracies also includes the United States (25th), Italy (29th) and Belgium (36th).

The decline has been global: the average score of the 167 countries and territories has dropped from 5.44 to 5.37, which is the largest fall in the average score since ‘The Economist’ began drawing up the index in 2006. For its part, the average score in Western Europe, which includes Spain, has dropped from 8.35 to 8.29, precisely the same decline Spain experienced.

The main reason, according to ‘The Economist’, has been the restrictive measures implemented by practically all governments to halt the pandemic and has led to points being lost in the heading of civil liberties analysed in the index. In fact, Spain has the same points as last year in four out of five of the categories of the ‘Democracy Index’: in Electoral Processes and Pluralism it scored 9.58 points, its highest mark; in Political Participation it scored 7.22 points; in Political Culture it scored 8.13 points; and in the Functioning of Government it scored 7.14 points. It only posted a decline in Civil Liberties, dropping from 8.82 to 8.53 points in 2020. 

The same has happened in the rest of Europe, where the average scope in the category of Civil Liberties has dropped from 8.78 to 8.53. For example, Ireland, which scored a perfect 10 in Civil Liberties in 2019, has dropped to 9.71; Norway, Finland and Iceland have all dropped from 9.71 to 9.41; Sweden from 9.41 to 9.12; and France from 8.53 to 8.24, among others.

‘The Economist Intelligence Unit’ has based its study in 2020 on both information from international experts and from public opinion surveys, such as the World Value Surveys (WVS Database), Eurobarometer, Gallup, Asian Barometer, Latin American Barometer, Afrobarometer and national surveys, and on the analysis of the legislative situation of countries. Accordingly, the scale from 0 to 10 for each country is based on the valuations of 60 indicators, grouped into five categories (Electoral Processes and Pluralism; Civil Liberties; the Functioning of Government; Political Participation, and Political Culture), each of which has its own score from 0 to 10, to give an average and a final score.

Other international rankings

Appart from the Democracy Index, there are many international indicators, studies and rankings demonstrating the good health and vigour of Spanish democracy, its rule of law and the civil and political freedoms enjoyed by its society. Here are some of the main ones. ​

One of the most complete and complex indices that analyse the democratic health of countries is that of the Varieties of Democracy Institute (known as the V-Dem Institute) of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. In this index, Spain has improved its position significantly to 9th place as a fully liberal democracy out of a total of 180 countries in the latest annual report published in March 2020. Spain enters a top 10 including Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Belgium, Portugal, Costa Rica and New Zealand, above countries such as Finland, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and Germany. With respect to other categories analysed in the report, in turn composed of other sub-indices, Spain is in 7th place in the electoral democracy index; 12th place in the liberal component index; 18th place in egalitarian component index; and 26th place in the participatory component and deliberative component indices.  

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), an intergovernmental organisation based in Stockholm, places Spain as the 13th democracy with the best classification among the 158 states analysed in its Global State of Democracy report. This represents an improvement of seven positions with respect to the previous year when Spain achieved an overall rating of 0.7705 out of 1, similar to the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium, and above Canada, France and Austria. In the report, which uses data from 2018, Spain is particularly strong in the category of Representative Government, in which it scores 0.81 points and 9th place overall; and Fundamental Rights, with 0.84 points, the same as Canada and slightly better than the Netherlands and France. It has also improved its classification in the attribute of Checks on Government, in which it scored 0.79 and 14th place overall; and Impartial Administration, at 0.84 points and 12th place. 

Spain has also improved its position in the Rule of Law Index 2020, the ranking prepared by the independent organisation World Justice Project, which measures the level  of compliance with the Rule of Law in countries and jurisdictions around the world. In the latest edition, our country has scored an overall 0.73, 0.1 points more than in 2019, which puts it in 19th place out of 128 countries and jurisdictions. Its position is thus very similar to France (20) and the United States (21) and above Portugal (23) and Italy (27).

In addition to the above indices on democratic quality and the rule of law, there are other internationally prestigious studies such as Freedom in the World, published every year by the Freedom House organisation. In its 2020 edition, using 2019 data, Spain scored 92 points out of 100, higher than countries such as France, Italy and the United States. In addition, it is among the 20 countries with the best position in the sub-categories relating to the electoral process (12th), political pluralism and participation (16th) and functioning of government (10th).