Almost half of the world’s population resides in these countries, whose elections are being held this year. These include the general election in Taiwan in January and the U.S. presidential contest in November.

The ballots coincide with escalating geopolitical and economic unrest, including the war in Ukraine, conflicts in the Middle East, and growing trade tensions between the two biggest economies in the world, China and the United States.

In some nations, there are questions about the robustness of democracy itself as political debate has polarized or been twisted by disinformation. There will be many free and fair elections this year, or at least there will be disputes over the outcomes.

At halfway through the most significant election year in history, a few recurring themes have appeared in Reuters’ global reporting:

Living standards of households worldwide have been negatively impacted by increases in the cost of food, energy, and other necessities, ranging from the price of green onions in Indonesia to increased fuel expenditures in Europe. Leaders and governments in place are footing the bill.

According to polls, worries about the rising cost of living had a significant role in the decline in support for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, the defeat of the ruling Conservative party in Britain, and the losses incurred by mainstream parties in June’s European Parliament elections.

In Africa, dissatisfaction with living conditions and joblessness played a role in the ANC’s loss of the majority in the election in South Africa. Growing poverty will probably influence Ghana’s December presidential election result, which will choose President Nana Akufo-Addo’s successor.

Pre-election polling in the United States indicates that voters are not impressed with President Joe Biden’s attempts to raise their quality of living either, with many believing that their living standards are declining in spite of encouraging economic headlines. One exception: After providing substantial incentives to voters with low incomes, the ruling MORENA party in Mexico won the election.

Although there are indications that inflation is stabilising, economic authorities caution that many economies are still vulnerable and that inflation has not yet been completely controlled.

Agustin Carstens, the head of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), the umbrella organisation of central banks, said in June that “a number of pressure points could throw the global economy off track.”

Green Shift

Climate change action has frequently been left out of election campaigns due to voters’ primary concern being the expense of living, even while global temperatures continue to rise and the number of people dying from excessive heat is on the rise.

Surveys indicate that Europeans continue to favour aggressive action against global warming, but the debate in that continent has centred on the alleged costs to livelihoods, with farming and other interests intensifying their calls for a relaxation of net-zero regulations.

The environmentalist Greens lost most of their gains from the previous five years in the EU elections. Ahead of the general election on July 4, Labour in Britain withdrew a plan to invest 28 billion pounds in green projects, claiming the nation could not afford it. Meanwhile, their Conservative competitors attacked low-traffic and low-emission projects, referring to themselves as “on the side of drivers”.

The United States, where Donald Trump ran on a platform of continuing to use fossil fuels, may pose the most threat to the green transition. In the event that Trump wins, it is unclear how much of Biden’s green subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will remain in effect.

Make a (far)right turn?

Due to the cost of living crisis, the far-right movement is becoming more and more popular in Western nations. This movement uses a combination of nationalist and anti-immigration policies, frequently unfulfilled economic expenditure promises, and populist rhetoric that targets global elites.

The Chega party in Portugal increased its number of parliamentary seats fourfold in March, making it the third largest party in the nation. After a span of three months, the eurosceptic, far-right counterparts in Europe achieved victories in elections to the European Parliament.

Marine Le Pen’s National Rally lost Sunday’s elections in France without winning the majority they were hoping for, but they did manage to become the biggest party in a hung parliament that now runs the risk of bringing the continent’s second-biggest economy to a standstill over policies.

Even though the Reform Party only gained a few seats due to Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system, its anti-immigrant, nationalist platform garnered almost four million votes, which helped to undermine support for the incumbent Conservatives.

There will be a lot of attention on Austria on September 29, as surveys indicate that the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), which won the most votes in the European Parliament elections, is leading its competitors.

Trump has elevated immigration to the top of his domestic campaign platform in the United States, pledging to broaden the travel ban on nationals of specific nations, remove birthright citizenship, and carry out mass deportations.

The senior economist at investment firm Jefferies, Mohit Kumar, pointed out that the main Western economies facing a workforce shortage due to ageing populations were the ones where immigration was trending as an election issue.

“Economically we need immigration but the political dynamics are shifting away from immigration,” he stated.

Largesse in Debt and Elections

In an attempt to gain power, many politicians are pledging to spend heavily and cut taxes because to the widespread economic misery. However, doing so runs the risk of increasing the world debt, which is already at record levels as a result of massive post-pandemic stimulus packages in wealthy nations.

The governments of the United States, France, and the other Group of Seven (G7) countries have been cautioned by credit rating agency S&P Global that they are unlikely to stop debt increases “at the present stage in their electoral cycles”.

This election year presents a “especially high” risk of fiscal expansion, which might impede attempts to bring inflation down to goal, according to the BIS annual report released in June.

Watchdogs for the budget in Britain and France, two nations that are having financial difficulties, observed that a large number of spending commitments were either unmet or overly estimated.

Trump has promised to maintain the significant tax cut he signed into law in 2017 and his economic team has spoken of taking additional cuts beyond what was done during his first term in office.

In the meanwhile, Biden suggests increasing taxes on wealthy people and corporations, but he promises not to raise taxes on those making less than $400,000 annually and to help low- and middle-class Americans pay for childcare. The federal government of the United States is currently over $34 trillion in debt.

Since the world economy is thought to be more susceptible to financial shocks at these levels of debt, the International Monetary Fund has advised governments to cut back on their borrowing.

Its chief economist, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, wrote in a recent blog post, “Unfortunately, fiscal plans so far are insufficient and could be derailed further given the record number of elections this year.”

Defence and security issues have dominated several election campaigns this year as global tensions increase, especially in nations close to the hotspots.

Alexander Stubb, the candidate for president of Finland in February, ran on a platform of the formerly non-aligned nation’s full membership in NATO and approval of the transfer of nuclear weapons through the alliance. In an election marked by requests for increased defence spending and worries about Russia, the incumbents in Lithuania prevailed.

The main topic of discussion during Taiwan’s presidential and parliamentary elections on January 13 was how to handle China, which considers the island to be part of its territory. With a candidate who pledged to protect Taiwan from intimidation and emphasised the necessity for communication with Beijing, the ruling DPP party won the presidency for a third term.

One significant weakness for Biden in the US has been the resentment of Democratic voters over Israel’s military action in Gaza and his ongoing backing for Israel. Party divides exist in American opinions on the war, with Republicans primarily siding with Israel.

While Biden expresses consistent support for NATO, Trump has declared that America would radically reevaluate the organization’s goal if he were to win the presidency again. He has further declared, devoid of proof, that, should he be elected, he would put a stop to the Ukrainian crisis before starting office. Biden has responded by saying that Trump has “no idea what he’s talking about” in response.

According to pro-democracy observers, almost 75% of people on Earth reside in autocracies (opens new tab). Human rights organisations and observers have expressed worries about this year’s elections in Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cambodia, Iran, and Russia being unfair. Similar questions are on the ballot in Uzbekistan and Algeria.

Some pundits have celebrated Modi’s electoral defeat as evidence of how resilient its democracy is. Senegal’s smooth transfer of power in March came as a relief after the incumbent’s attempts to postpone the election had sparked unrest.

But perhaps the greatest test of democracy this year will come from Washington.

Trump won’t say whether he will accept the election results or rule out the possibility of violence during the battle on November 5. He’s already setting himself up to challenge a possible loss.

Political scientist and Harvard University professor of government Steven Levitsky said, “We should be quite worried,” during a Brookings think tank event in June.

“A democracy cannot survive if one party in a two-party system is not committed to playing by the democratic rules of the game.”