This article describes step 2 of 4 of the South Asia Political Forecast project. The 4 step method is described in the previous post. In the first step, I discussed the baseline for the forecast, identifying the current state of democracy in South Asia. In this step, I draw from theory to identify factors that influence the strengthening of democracy in general.
The baseline indicated strong support for democracy despite weak performance. But we cannot assume that democracy will continue by default. A significant share of the population is open to alternatives, such as “strong leaders” or “military rule”, even while they support democracy (Ref 1). So we need to find predictors of democratic strengthening.
What strengthens democracy?
Among the many factors debated in the literature on democratic consolidation, a general consensus exists around only three:
- Income and wealth levels are positively correlated to democratic strengthening (Income inequality, however, is negatively correlated)
- Economic growth is positively correlated to democratic strengthening
- Literacy rates and education level are positively correlated to democratic strengthening
The combined positive influence of these factors was theorized in a famous 1959 paper by Seymour Martin Lipset. Lipset considered these factors inter-related and termed them together as “the economic development complex.” Subsequent cross-national studies have generally held these relationships as valid. (These are cited in the full report.)
The most recent survey of South Asia, in this vein, found that formal education is the single biggest factor in determining support for democracy. “In South Asia, someone with a graduate degree is seven times more likely to support democracy than is a nonliterate person” (Ref 1, 92).
Another strain of research focuses on cultural factors: History as a former British colony (as opposed to say, French colony) and penetration of the English language have been correlated with democratic viability. Diversity may also help, especially because minorities in any given area are stronger promoters of democracy.
Forces extraneous to South Asia may constrain region-wide democratic politics. The political environment of the neighborhood (e.g., China, Iran, Southeast Asia) affects longer-term democratic consolidation, due to both geopolitics and the so-called “contagion effect”. (The most famous example of this effect was in Eastern Europe, where the fall of communism in one country affected others almost like dominoes.)
In addition, we need to consider spillovers from international terrorism, American foreign policy, and, very significantly, climate change.
All these influences on democratic strengthening are derived from theory and past data, which are predictors but do not form a forecast. The next step is to organize these predictors to form a forecast, in which variables are prioritized by risk. In doing so, the next post will introduce relative certainties and uncertainties.
Note: I’m using these posts to summarize my lengthier analysis. The references below reflect only this summary.
Ref 1. deSouza, Peter R., Suhas Palshikar, and Yogendra Yadav. “The Democracy Barometers: Surveying South Asia.” Journal of Democracy 19/1 (January 2008): 84-96.