In the current wave of political unrest sweeping through the Arab world, an underlying theme has been the deepening desire among the region's people to make their countries freer and more democratic. We wonder: Which continent or region has made the most progress on the road to democracy over the past 30 years?
B. South America
C. North Africa and the Middle East
D. Sub-Saharan Africa
A. Asia is not correct.
Since 1980, there has been a 16 percentage point increase in the share of Asia's countries that are democracies — with the percentage rising from 26% to 42%. The decade of greatest progress was the 1990s, when the number of democracies almost doubled, from eight to fourteen, according to the Center for Systemic Peace, which analyzes political regimes around the world.
Democracy has taken root in large Asian countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines. However, 19 out of 33 countries in Asia are still not democracies. These include some of the world's most repressive regimes, such as Burma and North Korea — as well as the world's most populous nation, China.
B. South America is correct.
Since 1980, the share of South America's 12 countries that are democracies has risen by 50 percentage points — from 33% to 83%. South America has thus made the most progress by far in recent years.
Success stories include Argentina, Chile and Brazil, each of which has peacefully transitioned from military rule to democracy. Non-democracies are now the exception rather than the rule on the continent, with Ecuador and Venezuela the only remaining holdouts.
C. North Africa and the Middle East is not correct.
While the rest of the world is embracing democracy to varying degrees, North Africa and the Middle East is an outlier, with autocratic regimes more the rule than the exception. Since 1980, there has only been a nine percentage point increase in the share of democracies among the 28 countries in the region — from 12% to just 21% today.
Meanwhile, 22 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall brought democracy to Eastern Europe, 92% of European countries today are considered democracies, the only exceptions being Belarus, Russia and Bosnia. In North America, 85% of the countries are considered democracies, with Cuba and Haiti the exceptions.
D. Sub-Saharan Africa is not correct.
Today, 45% of sub-Saharan African countries are democracies — a 32 percentage point increase since 1980. Since 2000 alone, the number has more than doubled and now stands at 18 out of 40 countries — or slightly less than half.