Methodology for measuring democracy

Methodology for measuring democracy

Democracy as a concept has been defined and attempted for debate many a times in history. Mostly, it is agreed that democracy is the rule of the people, by the people and for the people. The administration in democratic regime tries to build institutions that put all citizens of the region coming from all diversities of caste, creed, region, religion, background, education as one in the eyes of law. Democracy gives freedom of participation to social groups to equally participate in the democratic process.

If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost.

– Aristotle

Measuring Democracy

While all things said and accepted, measuring degree of democratization has its own challenges, and many studies have been done in this direction. For example, Robert Dahl, who taught political science at Yale university established a pluralist theory of democracy. Dahl clarifies that no modern country meets the ideal of democracy. To reach the ideal requires meeting 5 criteria.


1.  Effective participation: Citizens have adequate and equal opportunity to form their preference and place question

2.   Voting equality: All citizens’ votes are equal in weight

3. Enlightened Understanding: Equal opportunity for discovering and affirming the choice for citizens to decide as per their own interest.

4.  Control of agenda: People should have opportunity to prioritize agenda for political deliberation.

5.   Inclusiveness: Equality for all to participate in the political process.


Therefore, Dahl came up with a term “Polyarchy” which is a form of government in which power is invested in multiple people. It takes the form of neither a dictatorship nor a democracy.

Tatu Vanheim from University of Tampere, Department of Political Science and International Relations has done a long-term research on the subject.


Tatu Vanhanen’s Measures of Democratization dataset is intended to provide comparable data on the degree of democratization in 188 contemporary and three former states. The same criteria of democratization have been applied to all countries throughout the period since 1810.

Hypothesis for measuring Democracy

To measure degree of democratization, Mr. Tatu Vanhanen’s hypothesis were –



1.   The selection of the smaller parties and independents as the indicators of the distribution of power is based on the assumption that in contemporary states parties represent the most important centers of power and that the share of the smaller parties and independents most realistically measures the distribution of power. It is reasonable to assume that the higher the share of the smaller parties of the votes cast in parliamentary elections or of the seats in parliament, the more widely power is distributed.


2.   The higher the level of participation (as indicated by the percentage share of the adult population voting in elections), the more the population is involved in the struggle for power. However, a high level of participation in elections indicates a distribution of power among the population only on the condition that the share of the smaller parties is also high


3.  Though the two basic variables can be used separately, it is reasonable to assume that a combination of them would be a better and more realistic indicator of power distribution. If only a small fraction of the adult population is allowed to take part in elections, the distribution of power among competing parties loses much of its meaning, and if one party or group gets all the votes in elections, a high degree of participation hardly indicates that political power is widely distributed. Multiplication of the values of the two variables is based on the assumption that real power distribution presupposes concurrence of both open competition and mass participation

The polyarchy dataset available on compiled by Tatu Vanhanen. The version 2.0 of the dataset covers 187 countries over the period 1810-2000. The below visualization on the data represents measure of degree of democratization of different countries of the world.


Hover over the country for index value. The source is published on our github repository

Methodology for calculating Index of Democratization

The variables in question are political competition, political participation and the index of democratization.

The competition variable portrays the electoral success of smaller parties, that is, the percentage of votes gained by the smaller parties in parliamentary and/or presidential elections. The variable is calculated by subtracting from 100 the percentage of votes won by the largest party (the party which wins most votes) in parliamentary elections or by the party of the successful candidate in presidential elections. Depending on their importance, either parliamentary or presidential elections are used in the calculation of the variable, or both elections are used, with weights. If information on the distribution of votes is not available, or if the distribution does not portray the reality accurately, the distribution of parliamentary seats is used instead. If parliament members are elected but political parties are not allowed to take part in elections, it is assumed that one party has taken all votes or seats. In countries where parties are not banned but yet only independent candidates participate in elections, it is assumed that the share of the largest party is not over 30 percent.

The political participation variable portrays the voting turnout in each election, and is calculated as the percentage of the total population who actually voted in the election. In the case of indirect elections, only votes cast in the final election are taken into account. If electors have not been elected by citizens, only the number of actual electors is taken into account, which means that the degree of participation drops to the value 0. If an election to choose electors has been held, the participation variable is calculated from the number and distribution of votes in that election. National referendums raise the variable value by five percent and state (regional) referendums by one percent for the year they are held. Referendums can add the degree of participation at maximum by 30 percent a year. The value of the combined degree of participation cannot be higher than 70 percent, even in cases where the sum of participation and referendums would be higher than 70.

The index of democratization is formed by multiplying the competition and the participation variables and then dividing the outcome by 100.

Index = (% of the adult population who voted in the elections) * (100 – % of the winning party’s votes in a national election)/100


Further Readings

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