Global studies give El Salvador failing grade on democracy

In recent months, several annual surveys of the strength of democratic institutions around the world have been published.  I collect several of them below. El Salvador is shown to be losing ground as a democracy in all of these studies, as the researchers find a trend toward authoritarianism under Nayib Bukele.

Freedom House

In its annual reports, Freedom Houses uses a methodology evaluating 25 indicators of political and civil rights based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In its 2023 report, Freedom House gave El Salvador a grade of 56/100 on its freedom status, classifying the country as "partly free.”  The country has lost ground for the past decade in Freedom House surveys, declining from a score of 77 to 56 during the past 10 years.  In this year’s report Nayib Bukele was highlighted with other leaders showing authoritarian tendencies: “After assuming office through elections, these leaders rejected the established democratic process and sought to rewrite the rules of the game to maintain their grip on power.” 

Transparency International

The Corruptions Perception Index from Transparency International (“CPI”)  “ranks 180 countries and territories around the world by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, scoring on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).”  The 2022 edition of the CPI gave El Salvador a score of 33 out of 100, below the world average of 43, and ranking El Salvador 116th out of 180 countries.


Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) is produced by the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg and is said to involve “almost 4,000 scholars and other country experts. V-Dem measures hundreds of different attributes of democracy. V-Dem enables new ways to study the nature, causes, and consequences of democracy embracing its multiple meanings.”

V-Dem’s Democracy Report 2023 characterizes El Salvador as an “electoral autocracy.”   El Salvador was among the top 10 countries in degree of movement towards autocracy over both the past 10 year and the past 3 year periods.  V-Dem ranked El Salvador 132nd out of 179 countries on its Liberal Democracy Index.  

V-Dem report graphs showing the top "autocratizing" countries

The Economist

The Global Democracy Index from the publishers of The Economist, rates “the state of democracy across 167 countries on the basis of five measures with a maximum score of ten—electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties.”

The 2022 Global Democracy Index lists El Salvador as a “hybrid regime”, 5.06 on a 10 point scale, and about halfway between a flawed democracy and an authoritarian regime.   That ranked El Salvador 93rd out of 167 countries in the index. 

 Reporters Without Borders

The World Press Freedom Index is compiled by Reporters Without Borders who write that “the purpose of the World Press Freedom Index is to compare the level of press freedom enjoyed by journalists and media in 180 countries and territories.”   

In the 2022 Press Freedom Index, El Salvador has fallen from 66th in the world to 112th in only 5 years. El Salvador now has a score of 54.09 on the 100 point scale.

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But apparently you do not need strong democratic institutions to be happy.

The World Happiness Report from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network is based on worldwide Gallup polling data to capture people’s subjective sense of well-being.

El Salvador was in the top 1/3 of countries in world happiness, ranking 49th out of 146 countries.