Rule of law declined more in the US amid the pandemic than in countries with authoritarian leaders like Poland and Hungary: study

Rule of law declined more in the US amid the pandemic than in countries with authoritarian leaders like Poland and Hungary: study
A child holds a sign at a protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates on August 9, 2021 in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
  • Rule of law declined in the US more than any country in Europe or North America amid the COVID-19 pandemic, new data shows.
  • The US even outpaced countries led by authoriatians like Hungary and Poland in this regard.

The rule of law has declined more in the US than any country in Europe and North America since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, per a Brookings Institution analysis of the latest edition of the World Justice Project's (WJP) annual Rule of Law Index.

The countries that most closely followed the US in this regard were Poland and Hungary, which are led by men widely considered to be authoritarians - Viktor Orbán and Andrzej Duda. The US's rule of law score also declined the most in the high-income category.

The rule of law dropped in a majority of countries for the fourth consecutive year, the study found.

"With negative trends in so many countries, this year's WJP Rule of Law Index should be a wakeup call for us all," Bill Neukom, co-founder and CEO of WJP, said in a statement. "Rule of Law is the very foundation of communities of justice, opportunity and peace. Reinforcing that foundation should be a top priority for the coming period of recovery from the pandemic."

The study looks at 139 countries, ranking and scoring them based on eight factors: constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice.


"Effective rule of law reduces corruption, combats poverty and disease, and protects people from injustices large and small," the study said.

The US's overall rule of law score decreased 2.9% in the 2021 index, and it fell in 27th place out of the 139 countries covered - dropping two positions in global rank compared to last year.

Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at Brookings, wrote that the findings underscore how President Joe Biden's goal of showing that democracy still works by outperforming "an increasingly authoritarian" China "depends essentially on the US practicing what it preaches across the board."

"By all objective measures, the US badly needs to reverse its deteriorating rule of law and governance performance," Piccone said. "The world is watching and waiting with some doubts about our reliability as a strong partner. With Chinese President Xi Jinping's Beijing extending a hardening fist, now is the time for Washington to seize the moment and correct course."

The erosion of democracy and democratic norms in the US during the Trump era has been a major concern of scholars and watchdogs for years. The January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol exacerbated the consternation over the state of democracy in the US.


"American democracy is not a model for anybody right now," Archon Fung, the Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, told Insider in January. "There's a lot of other places that are doing it much better and we should be learning from them."