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Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty

Across the globe, democracy appears to be on the wane and strongman-led populism on the rise. But while the direction is authoritarian, it does not necessarily mean dictatorship everywhere.

What's happening: The sharp turn to authoritarian politics appears to reflect the re-emergence of conservative forces buried by the post-Soviet democratic wave. "All the momentum is with the populists and nationalists right now," Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, tells Axios.

But authoritarianism comes in different shades, says Dan Slater, head of the Center for Emerging Democracies at the University of Michigan, who writes about the issue in a new piece at Foreign Affairs.

They include:

  • "Electoral authoritarians" — election cheats who stop at nothing to stay in power.
  • Illiberal democrats — who don't necessarily cheat, but dish out attacks on norms and institutions to make themselves more powerful.

The U.S. has taken on characteristics of both, Slater says: With his attacks on the Fed, courts, generals, intelligence agencies, other politicians and the media, President Trump behaves like an illiberal democrat.

And the U.S. has allowed an electoral authoritarian dynamic to take hold with the electoral college, which twice in the last two decades has allowed presidents to take power with a minority of the votes. "As soon as it becomes systematic that one party can win the entire executive branch with fewer votes, it is a loser-take-all system," Slater said.

  • Voting restrictionsexact-match voter identification laws in Georgia, and a street address requirement to register in North Dakota — work with the electoral college to reinforce systemic authoritarianism.
  • Slater does not think a full-on electoral authoritarian system is inevitable in the U.S. "It takes people willing to use the system in illiberal and authoritarian ways," he said.

Go deeper

DOJ pressed to enforce Al Jazeera foreign agent ruling

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Justice Department is being pressed to enforce its own demand that the U.S. arm of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera register as a foreign agent.

Why it matters: The launch of Al Jazeera's new right-of-center U.S. media venture, Rightly, has refocused attention on the media company's alleged links to Doha, and DOJ's efforts to crack down on media outlets viewed as foreign interest mouthpieces.

Poll: Immigration is America's most-polarizing issue

Data: The American Aspirations Index/Populace; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Immigration was found to be the most polarizing issue in America based on new polling from Populace.

Why it matters: Americans have surprisingly similar priorities for the U.S., but immigration stands out as one of the few issues with clear partisan differences. It underscores the challenge for advocates and lawmakers hoping to pass immigration reform in the coming weeks amid narrow margins in Congress.

Lawmakers hide behind AG's investigation as Cuomo lingers

A billboard outside Albany, N.Y. Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is politically wounded but not yet dead, several state lawmakers tell Axios.

The state of play: Most are holding their fire and punting to state Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into sexual harassment allegations. They expect the inquiry to be credible and thorough — and buy Cuomo badly needed breathing room.