Concluded projects

of the Institute of Conflict Research

"Measuring democracy?"

Project Management: Prof. Dr. Anton Pelinka
Project Team: DDr. Hubert Sickinger
Financed by:   Renner Institute
Concluded in   Concluded in: January 2008

Since the early 1990s, measurement of democracy has been an increasingly important topic of comparative political science. The research project gives an overview of important approaches. On the one hand it describes widely used democracy scales (Polyarchy, Freedom House, Polity, Bertelsmann Transformation Index, Index of Defective Democracy and Vanhanen). In addition to the basic functions of "electoral democracy", these indices - to varying degrees - also include basic associational and communication rights as well as individual civil rights and aspects of power sharing. These indices are based on different political intentions (i.e. some of them are promoting models of liberal democracy and paths of development/good governance). They are very well suited for the purpose of measuring the approximation of political systems towards the benchmark of liberal, constitutional democracy on a worldwide basis. But they are not sophisticated enough to measure differences in the quality of democracy between mature, western democracies.

For this reason, the project report also explores alternative approaches to evaluate the quality of developed democracies. One approach lies in in-depth country studies conducted in compliance with well established criteria, such as the British "democratic audit", which has been further enhanced by International IDEA. Other approaches can be based on comparative public opinion polls as well as on indicators of inclusiveness of the political system and society. Equality of political representation of women or the degree of inclusiveness/universality of basic social security systems might be such indicators, which can be used as an "index of social democracy" (T. Meyer).

Basically, there is more than one way of measuring democracy. There are some well established comparative scales, which can be applied to different degrees (and in potentially modified formats) in addressing different research questions and to different country samples.