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How Many People Live in a Political Democracy Today?

Governments come in all shapes and sizes, but can ultimately be divided into two broad categories: democracies and autocracies.

Using the Regimes of the World classification system developed by political scientists Anna Lührmann, Marcus Tannenberg, and Staffan Lindberg and data from V-Dem, it’s estimated that 2.3 billion people—about 29% of the global population—lived in a democracy in 2021.

By contrast, 71% of people lived under what can be considered an autocratic regime. In fact, the number of people considered to be living under a type of autocracy is at its highest total in the last three decades.

To see how this split has changed over time, the chart from Our World in Data, which uses data from the aforementioned sources, highlights how many people have lived under political democracies versus autocracies since the 18th century.

Forms of Political Democracies and Autocracies

First, let’s look at the four types of political regimes shown in the chart, based on criteria from the classifications of Lührmann et al. (2018):

  • Liberal democracies: Judicial and legislative branches have oversight of the chief executive, rule of law, and individual liberties.

  • Electoral democracies: Hold multiparty de-facto elections that are free and fair, have an elected executive, and institutional democratic freedoms such as voting rights, clean elections, and freedom of expression.

  • Electoral autocracies: Hold de-facto elections; democratic standards are lacking and irregular.

  • Closed autocracies: No elections are held for the chief executive or no meaningful competition is present.

It’s important to note that this is a fairly stringent and specific classification system. Many countries consider themselves an electoral democracy or strive to appear as one, but are still considered autocratic based on this criteria.

Using this categorization scheme, 34 countries can be considered liberal democracies, 55 are electoral democracies, 60 are electoral autocracies, and 30 are closed autocracies as of early 2022.

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