Culture War, Conspiracies and Sectarian Politics Make U.S. 'Flawed Democracy,' Report Says

The United States is a "flawed democracy" that could deteriorate further, according to a report that assesses the political situation worldwide. This is the fifth year the U.S. has not been considered a "full democracy."

The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index classified the U.S. in its second tier of democracies for 2020, citing a number of serious concerns about the nation.

The U.S. is ranked 25th in the world, behind allies such as France, the U.K., South Korea and Japan. The country with the highest ranking was Norway, while North Korea came dead last in the "authoritarian" category.

The Economist Intelligence Unit uses five categories to test a country's democratic credentials: electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties.

The report noted that U.S. political participation and engagement had increased in 2020, citing the record voting figures in the November presidential election and the high turnout in the two Georgia Senate runoffs last month.

However, the unit warned that the U.S. "exhibits a number of democratic deficits that could result in a further deterioration in its score and ranking in the near future."

The report pointed to the prevalence of conspiracy theories, former President Donald Trump's refusal to concede the election and the deadly attack on the Capitol on January 6 as examples of the problems facing U.S. democracy.

"While pluralism and competing alternatives are essential for a functioning democracy, differences of opinion in the US have hardened into political sectarianism and institutional gridlock," the report said.

"The consequence of the long-running culture wars in the US and the heightened political polarization of recent years is that social cohesion has collapsed and consensus has evaporated on fundamental issues, such as election outcomes, public health practices and even the date of the country's founding."

Polarization was a consistent theme of the unit's assessment of the nation's problems. It cited partisan media coverage and social media companies' decisions to purge accounts as causes for concern.

"As Americans increasingly occupy two distinct and conflicting realities, prospects for a short-term improvement in this score seem to be dwindling," the report said.

"The proliferation of conspiracy theories in recent years, and the readiness of both sides of the political spectrum to indulge them, is an especially worrying trend."

The report pointed to the QAnon conspiracy theory, but also to previous Democratic attempts to blame Russian interference for Trump's victory in the 2016 election.

There were some positive indicators in the report, however. As well as increased political participation, it highlighted the "resilience" of the U.S. Constitution—pointing to the Supreme Court's refusal to hear controversial cases challenging the 2020 election result and Congress' certification of President Joe Biden's victory despite the efforts to prevent it.

The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the U.S. among flawed democracies for the first time in its 2016 report and the 2020 study explains that erosion of trust in the country's political institutions helped lead to Trump's election.

Trump and Biden at the Presidential Debate
Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the second presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville on October 22, 2020. The U.S. has been ranked as a flawed democracy for the fifth year in a row. Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images