Political freedom

A new interactive data visualization by Our World in Data shows the global development of political freedom in the last 200 years.

Polit­i­cal free­dom and civ­il lib­er­ties, jour­nal­ism and pub­lic dis­course are the pil­lars on which our free­dom rests. But qual­i­ta­tive assess­ments of these aspects bear the risk of mis­tak­ing­ly per­ceiv­ing a decline of lib­er­ties over time when in fact the bar by which we judge our lib­er­ty was raised. Quan­ti­ta­tive ass­es­ments can there­fore be use­ful when they help to mea­sure free­dom against the same yard­stick across coun­tries and over time.

This new inter­ac­tive data visu­al­iza­tion by Our World in Data shows the glob­al devel­op­ment of polit­i­cal free­dom in the last 200 years.

The chart shows the share of peo­ple liv­ing under dif­fer­ent types of polit­i­cal regimes over the last 200 years. Through­out the 19th cen­tu­ry more than a third of the glob­al pop­u­la­tion lived in colo­nial regimes and almost every­one else lived in auto­crat­i­cal­ly ruled coun­tries. The first expan­sion of polit­i­cal free­dom from the late 19th cen­tu­ry onward was crushed by the rise of author­i­tar­i­an regimes that in many coun­tries took their place in the time lead­ing up to the Sec­ond World War.

In the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tu­ry the world has changed sig­nif­i­cant­ly: Colo­nial empires end­ed, and more and more coun­tries turned demo­c­ra­t­ic: The share of the world pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in democ­ra­cies increased con­tin­u­ous­ly – par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant was the break­down of the Sovi­et Union which allowed more coun­tries to democ­ra­tise. Today more than every sec­ond per­son in the world lives in a democracy.

The huge major­i­ty of those liv­ing in an autoc­ra­cy – 4 out of 5 of those that live in an author­i­tar­i­an regime – live in one coun­try autoc­ra­cy: China.

There are var­i­ous attempts to mea­sure the types of polit­i­cal regimes that gov­ern the world’s coun­tries and to cap­ture some­thing as com­plex as a polit­i­cal sys­tem is nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tro­ver­sial. In this analy­sis the used index mea­sures polit­i­cal regimes on a spec­trum from +10 for full democ­ra­cies to ‑10 for full autoc­ra­cies; regimes that fall some­where in the mid­dle of this spec­trum are called anoc­ra­cies. To this  Our World in Data added infor­ma­tion about the world’s coun­tries that were ruled by oth­er coun­tries as part of a colo­nial empire. For more infor­ma­tion see the source below.

Source: Max Ros­er (2016) – ‘A his­to­ry of glob­al liv­ing con­di­tions in 5 charts’. Pub­lished online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/a‑history-of-global-living-conditions-in-5-charts/  [Online Resource]