Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.
The global democratic decline that wasn’t
We are in a period of global democratic decline. One report last year found that half of the world’s democracies are experiencing democratic backsliding. Another, that the “last 30 years of democratic advances” have now been “eradicated.”
But a fascinating new paper from associate professors at the University of Virginia and University of California, Berkeley, says that the story of global democratic decline becomes one of democratic stability if we look further into how indicators of democratic health are measured. Let’s get into it!
The recent reports that found evidence of global democratic backsliding, the paper’s authors, Anne Meng and Andrew Little, wrote, “rely heavily if not entirely on subjective indicators”—a team of expert coders that use media reports, academic studies, and personal experience to gauge democracy’s forward or backward movement. But it’s possible, Meng and Little think, that these coders’ “standards and biases” have changed over time, leading to harsher judgments now that we have much more information than we used to about democratic violations. These experts may have also been influenced by expanding media coverage and conversation around the poor state of democracies after the United States’ shocking 2016 election.
These changing standards and biases can greatly skew what counts as democratic backsliding. Consider that in 2016, one main method used to measure democratic health gave the US an 8 out of 10. This score is lower, Meng and Little point out, than the score the US received during the Jim Crow era or prior to women’s suffrage.
Meng and Little, keeping their metrics to three objective measurements—whether incumbents lose elections, if they face constitutional constraints like term limits, and numbers of journalists jailed and killed—found that there is little evidence of recent democratic backsliding in the aggregate.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some democracies, like Poland, that have undeniably become less democratic in recent years. Neither does it mean that more subjective measurements are useless or that we shouldn’t be focused on figuring out where democratic violations are occurring and how to push back against them. But it does mean that the narrative we’re used to hearing of global democratic decline may be more of an open question than we’ve frequently seen it portrayed. Democratic institutions, broadly speaking, have been proving resilient.
P.S. If you don’t have time to read the entire paper, Meng also has a Twitter thread on it here.
Better elections for young Nigerians
In late February Nigeria will hold a presidential election. Unusually, young people are flocking to get registered to vote—of the nearly 10 million new voters registered, 84 percent are under the age of 34. (Nigeria’s electoral commission claimed 1.12 million of those registrations invalid.) Now, 40 percent of total registered voters in Nigeria are under 34.
In Nigeria, voter turnout is historically low—33 percent in 2019—and past elections have been marred by voter fraud and rigging. But young people are being inspired this year to support third-party candidate Peter Obi, “the first time since the end of military dictatorship in 1999,” Al Jazeera reports, that “a third-party candidate is presenting a real challenge” to the two major Nigerian political parties. Faith in legitimate election results is also being buoyed by a new system that will use a voting card with biometric data that electronically uploads votes directly to the electoral commission. The BBC has more here.
Before we go
Last week on social media we shared the story that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer will be selling their drugs at a not-for-profit price to 45 low-income countries. That is good and true. However, while The Progress Network (TPN) does have an explicit focus on the positive, the goal is never to avoid the full picture of reality, especially when the full picture is not well known. It should also be known that this announcement from Pfizer comes at a time, as Jacobin covers, that they are “hiking prices on roughly a hundred drugs in the US” and quadrupling the price of their Covid-19 vaccine. Also true and not good at all.
Below in the links section, dolphins in New York, women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, Black joy in Oregon, and more.
Other good stuff in the news 🛺
Energy & Environment:
- A few pieces of good news on climate change (and a reality check) | MIT Technology Review
- Dolphins spotted swimming in New York City’s Bronx River | New Scientist
- Renewables projected to soon be one-fourth of US electricity generation | Inside Climate News
- Almost half of electricity in Germany was generated from renewables in 2022, data shows | IEEFA
- Thailand’s tuk-tuks go green amid rising demand for electric models | The Guardian
- Vietnam’s $15.5 billion Just Energy Transition Partnership explained | The Diplomat
Science & Tech:
- TikTok rolls out its ‘state-controlled media’ label to 40 more countries | TechCrunch
- The JWST is already upending our understanding of the early universe | Axios
Politics & Policy:
- Congress’s bipartisan deal to spend billions more fighting HIV and malaria abroad | Vox
- Pennsylvania removes degree requirement for thousands of state jobs | Pennsylvania Capital-Star
- Hawaii to make preschool available for all 3-4 year-olds | AP
- Canada’s ‘endangered’ Lake Winnipeg gets federal support | The Narwhal
- A new study links social media use to changes in teen brains. Is that a bad thing? | STAT
- The DRC has been certified free of the parasite that causes Guinea-worm disease | World Health Organization
- Postpartum haemorrhage: Niger halves blood-loss deaths at clinics | BBC
- Fewer Americans struggled to cover health costs during pandemic | The Hill
- Knife that ‘smells tumors’ can detect womb cancer within seconds | The Guardian
- Women left out of 9/11 benefits finally eligible for health care, compensation | The Fuller Project
- Treating broken bones in war zones made easier with low-cost device | Freethink
Society & Culture:
- Saudi Arabia is making historic strides in women’s rights, so why haven’t we heard about it? | ABC News
- Black joy is propelling a rural racial justice movement | Reasons to Be Cheerful
- Gentle policing: Social workers team up with North Carolina officers to successfully respond to over 1,000 calls | WRAL News
- Biggest pay raises went to Black workers, young people and low-wage earners | The Wall Street Journal
TPN Member originals 🧠
(Who are our Members? Get to know them.)
- Incredible India | Diane Francis
- Don’t ban chatbots in classrooms—use them to change how we teach | Angela Duckworth
- Who is included by “inclusive” language? | Matthew Yglesias
- Is this the end of the Islamic Republic? | Faisal Saeed Al Mutar
- The material progress of the developing world | Charles Kenny & Yascha Mounk
- Want to build a more just society? Be guided by a vision for, not an anger against | Eboo Patel
- The spiritual benefits of material progress | Jason Crawford
- Fox News “takeover” of the Capitol: When politics becomes spectacle, democracy is at risk | Ruth Ben-Ghiat
- What’s driving US drug shortages and how to fix them | Ezekiel J. Emanuel
- Mixed feelings can be worse than bad ones | Arthur C. Brooks
- Space journalist Eric Berger on NASA, SpaceX, and the future of space exploration | James Pethokoukis
- After often-gloomy Davos, I’m still optimistic about the future | Fareed Zakaria
- Joe Biden’s conditional optimism about America | Matthew Yglesias
Until Next Time
Be inspired by this journey of rejection to success from author Caitlin Barasch. 💯👇