Democratic standards across the world fell in 2023 amid the spread of wars, authoritarian crackdowns and declining levels of trust in mainstream political parties, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said on Thursday.

While the number of countries categorized as democracies increased by two last year, the global average index score fell to 5.23 in 2023 from 5.29 the year before, its lowest level since the first study was published in 2006.

“The world has entered an age of conflict, and the contours of a future major war are already visible,” said the study titled “Age of Conflict.”

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“Today’s wars are concentrated in countries where democracy is absent or in trouble.”

Western Europe was the only region to improve its score, moving ahead of North America. The study said it was the first time that North America has not placed as the world’s highest-scoring region.

Joan Hoey, the editor of the report, said scores fell for “not only those nations prosecuting wars (Azerbaijan and Russia), but for those on the receiving end (Armenia and Ukraine).”

“However, growing democratic resilience and consolidation in EU member states in Central Europe, as well as in Balkan and Baltic countries, ensured that the overall regional score did not significantly fall,” Hoey added.

“The narrative of democracy in Eastern Europe and Central Asia can be best summed up as a tale of resilience.”

The London-based analysis group pointed to intensifying anti-immigration sentiment in many countries, saying the political landscape in the Americas and Europe has become increasingly polarised.

“Three years after the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a rollback of freedoms around the globe, the results for 2023 point to a continuing democratic malaise and lack of forward momentum.”

“More countries are experiencing declining levels of trust in mainstream political parties and leaders, and succumbing to ‘culture wars’ of the sort that have long characterised the U.S.,” the study said.

“Western Europe is plagued by low levels of trust in government.”

The 27-nation EU holds elections for its European Parliament later this year and polls suggest the far-right could rise to become the third-biggest grouping in the legislature.

The report said that Ukraine’s battle to repel Russia’s two-year invasion was taking a toll on its democratic institutions and practices, while Russia continued its steady slide toward “outright dictatorship.”

Only 7.8% of the global population reside in a “full democracy” and substantially more than one-third live under authoritarian rule.

The number of democracies increased by two in 2023, with Paraguay and Papua New Guinea being upgraded from “hybrid regimes” to “flawed democracies.”

Greece became a “full democracy” while Pakistan was downgraded to an “authoritarian regime.” The United States remains a “flawed democracy.”

The top three places in the index are occupied by Norway, New Zealand and Iceland, while the final three countries are North Korea, Myanmar and Afghanistan.