THOMAS CAROTHERS, BENJAMIN FELDMAN
- MARCH 27, 2023
Despite the overall global trend of democratic backsliding, dozens of democratic bright spots have emerged in countries around the world during the past ten years. Understanding the variety and dynamics of these positive political junctures is key to crafting more effective ways to support them.
In June 2022, Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), announced an important new element of U.S. democracy policy: the United States will give special attention and support to democratic “bright spots.” The aim of this approach is to help countries move ahead successfully after they experience new democratic momentum or a democratic opening. This raises important practical policy questions about how the United States can most effectively assist bright spot countries. But prior to those lies a basic but underexplored question: What constitutes a democratic bright spot?
This paper addresses this question by offering a typology centered around four different types of political junctures:
- Citizen mobilizations oust a leader: where mass mobilization ousts a democratically challenged leader in the midst of their term;
- Promising authoritarian successions: where an authoritarian regime experiences a leadership succession that appears to open the door to democratic progress within the framework of regime continuity;
- Blocked power grabs: where a leader already in power attempts to extend their term or authority in contravention of existing rules or norms and is thwarted, whether by legal institutions or mass mobilization; and
- Pivotal elections: where a democratically backsliding or stagnant government loses power in an election.