It's easy to get depressed and anxious about the state of democracy today. That's understandable given the Trump presidency and and rise of populism in Europe. But how much danger are we really in?
Perhaps not as much as commentary in the popular press would have us believe. That's not to say current trends don't deserve pushback. But we are in less danger of failing in our pushback efforts than many suppose.
Political scientist Daniel Treisman explains in his article on the Monkey Cage blog:
"Previous scholars found — and I have confirmed — that certain types of democracies are more likely to fail. Breakdowns are more common in countries that are poor, that have had less experience of democracy and that are in economic crisis. By contrast, no democracy has ever failed while its citizens had a per capita income above $22,000 or after surviving for 65 years.
Using a statistical model, I estimated how often democracies with particular income levels, growth rates and political histories have become dictatorships. I also included the average Polity score of neighboring countries, since democracies tend to cluster.
Of course, such estimates should be taken with a grain of salt. Exact predictions depend on details of the model, and the pattern could change. Still, they provide a useful baseline...
The model suggests the risk was significant in the 19th century — up to almost 1 in 25. That makes sense; breakdown did come close during the Civil War. After that, the rate declines, rebounds a little during the Great Depression, but then falls consistently. By 2016, the estimated probability is less than 1 in 3,000.
For comparison, the risk in Weimar Germany in 1932 — based on its income, growth rate, political history and politics of its neighbors — was 78 times higher. In 1972 Chile, before Pinochet’s coup, it was 203 times higher.
No democracy has ever failed with a figure as low as the United States has today. It’s possible — but highly unlikely."
So, I wouldn't say "relax". But I would say: pushing back against anti-democratic practices and norm-breaking is not only the right thing to do, but also--despite all the gloom and doom--likely to be successful.