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We dubbed 2018 the "year of the strongman." Nominations now open for 2019's catchy geopolitical nickname. Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Two years of democratic erosion around the world came to an end in 2018, according to the annual index from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). However, gains in countries like Costa Rica were canceled out by declines in places like Nicaragua, and globally we ended 2018 right about where we started it.

The big picture: Just 4.5% of the world's population lives in countries EIU considers "full democracies." Another 43.2% live in "flawed democracies." The remaining 52.3% live in "hybrid" (think Turkey) or "authoritarian" regimes.

  • The most robust democracies are in Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada and Ireland. The U.S. ranks #25, falling from #21 in 2017.
  • While Europe is home to the world's strongest democracies, it's also where "the democratic malaise of the past decade has been felt most keenly."
  • Gold stars: Armenia, Macedonia, Ecuador, Haiti and Tunisia all strengthened their democracies in 2018, per the index. Mauritius, a small island nation, is Africa's only full democracy.

Takeaways:

  • “Identity politics” and “strongman leaders” are on the rise globally and undermining “the institutions of representative democracy.”
  • Liberalization is not risk-free. Ethiopia's democratic opening has been accompanied by "an increase in violence."
  • "Even in the Middle East and North Africa, where the population is increasingly disillusioned with electoral politics ... there has been a noticeable increase over the past year in public willingness to engage in public protest."

The bottom line: Political participation is on the rise, which indicates voters are "not disengaged from democracy. They are clearly disillusioned with formal political institutions but have been spurred into action," per the report.

Go deeper: Download the report.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Health

Pfizer says COVID vaccine over 90% effective in kids

A health care worker preparing a Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine dose in New York City on Oct. 21. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said their COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective at protecting children between the ages of 5 and 11 from symptomatic infections from the virus, according to a study posted online by the Food and Drug Administration Friday.

Why it matters: Pfizer is seeking an emergency use authorization to vaccinate children — one of the last groups of Americans still largely ineligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

Changing the inflation conversation

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Inflation looks like it’ll run hot for longer than plenty of smart people thought it would. The conversation over just how much more Americans will have to pay for their stuff has taken on a new intensity, as supply problems show few signs of fading.

Why it matters: The rate of price growth has remained consistently strong in recent months — a time that some thought would bring cooling prices after an initial reopening spike. What goes on with prices will influence the decisions made by Congress, the Biden Administration, and the Federal Reserve.

The biggest headline from Biden's town hall

President Biden greets attendees during a commercial break in Baltimore last night. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

What matters from President Biden's town hall with CNN's Anderson Cooper at Baltimore Center Stage on Thursday:

The biggest headline: Biden is jettisoning the corporate tax increases that White House officials have insisted, for the past 10 months, are wildly popular across the country. He admitted he doesn't have the votes.