In 2020, globally, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index fell from 5.44 in 2019 to 5.37 (on a 0-10 scale), driven by falls across all regions for the first time since 2010, in the aftermath of the global economic and financial crisis.
The deterioration in average scores was driven largely by measures taken by governments to address the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The need to act quickly allowed less space for the sometimes slow processes of democracy.
“The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 posed the question of whether the public should, temporarily, surrender democratic freedoms to save lives. Through their actions the majority of people answered in the affirmative. The problem was they were never really invited to consider it. The quality of any democracy can be measured by the questions it puts to the public for decision or guidance. The pandemic confirmed that many rulers have become used to excluding the public from discussion of the pressing issues of the day and showed how elite governance, not popular participation, has become the norm”, said Joan Hoey, editor of the index.
Switzerland’s overall score dropped from 9.03 (2019) to 8.83 (2020) and it dropped from 10th the 12th in the overall ranking.
The drop in Switzerland’s score was driven mostly by declining perceptions of the functioning of its government. Here its score fell 8% from 9.29 to 8.57. This calculation considers public confidence in government and political parties, the independence of government from economic and religious influence and the perceived extent to which freely elected representatives determine government policy.
Switzerland also saw a drop in its civil liberties score, which fell 3% from 9.12 to 8.82. This figure looks at aspects such as press freedom and freedom to protest. On all other measures Switzerland remained the same.
Overall Switzerland was among only 23 out of 165 countries that were classified as having fully functioning democracies in 2020, covering only 8.4% of the world’s population.
Once again Norway topped the global ranking with a score of 9.81 (9.87 in 2019). The Nordics occupied the top three spots, with Iceland and Sweden taking second and third places.
In 25th place, the US remained a flawed democracy, with an overall score of 7.92. (7.96 2019). The functioning of its government and political culture in particular dragged down its overall score.
Low participation was the main thing that kept Switzerland from ranking nearer the top. It scored 7.78 on this measure, far behind Norway’s perfect score of 10.00. With a perfect participation score Switzerland would rise to fourth place overall with a score of 9.27.
Swiss voter participation has always been fairly low. Between 1971 and 2019 it has fluctuated between 56.9% (1971) and 42.1% (1995). In 2019 it was 45.1%. Voter participation varies significantly by canton. In 2019, participation was less than 40% in Geneva and nearly 60% in Schaffhausen – see chart here.
EIU democracy index 2020 (in English)