In a significant change since 2000, the North American Republican Party began to demonize its political 'enemies' and to encourage violence against its opponents, adopting attitudes and tactics comparable to those of the nationalist parties that govern Hungary, India, Poland and Turkey. This change led to a strong boost under the command of Donald Trump.
In contrast, the Democratic party has changed little in its support for democratic norms and, in that regard, has remained similar to the center-right and center-left parties in Western Europe. Its main change was in the economy.
These are the two great conclusions of a new and very extensive study carried out by the V-Dem Institute, of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, which used recently developed methods to measure and quantify the health of world democracies at a time when authoritarianism is on the rise .
Anna Lührmann, deputy director of V-Dem, said, quoted by several newspapers, that the republican transformation was "certainly the most dramatic change in an established democracy", proved by the so-called 'index of illiberalism' that the institute itself created and developed .
The study, published this Monday, shows that the American party followed a similar trajectory to Fidesz, which under the Hungarian Viktor Orbán evolved from a liberal young movement to an authoritarian party that made Hungary the Union's first non-democracy European Union.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of India has been similarly transformed under Narendra Modi, as have the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Law and Justice party in Poland. Without forgetting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Republican Party remained relatively committed to pluralism, but it went a long way towards abandoning other democratic norms, making it much more likely to disrespect opponents and encourage violence against them, the study says.
"We have seen similar changes in parties in other countries where the quality of democracy has declined in recent years, where democracy is eroding," said Lührmann. "This fits very well with the pattern of parties that forget democracy when they are in power."
"The demonization of opponents - this is clearly a factor that has changed a lot when it comes to the Republican Party, as well as the encouragement of political violence," he said, adding that the change was driven largely from the top of its structure.
In Western Europe, center-right parties like the Christian Democratic Union of Germany and the People's Party of Spain maintained their commitment to democratic norms. By the same token, the British Conservative Party has moved a little in the wrong direction, but not to the extremes of the Republicans.
"The data shows that, in 2018, the Republican Party was much more anti-liberal than almost all other government parties in democracies," concluded the V-Dem study.
The institute found that the decline in democratic traits has accelerated worldwide and that, for the first time in this century, autocracies are the majority - with power in 92 countries, where 54% of the global population lives. Almost 35% of the world's population, 2,6 billion people, live in nations that are becoming more autocratic.