🦋 How to measure democracy: A practitioner’s view

The challenge of measuring democracy

Gagnon’s project poses a particular challenge to those organisations that attempt to measure democracy. At International IDEA, we subscribe to a rather broad definition of democracy. Our organisation understands democracy to require popular control of decision making and decision makers, and equality in the exercise of that control. We measure democracy in a disaggregated way that can accommodate different institutional forms. This means that we do not come to a single value for democracy. Instead, we measure the core attributes of democracy as stand-alone values.

Measuring the component parts of democracy

Yet whenever one begins to measure something, one has to make choices about what is and what is not X. Contributions to this series by, inter alia, Maia Setälä and Tom Theuns have already noted this problem. One solution is to measure the component parts of the larger concept rather than the concept itself.

Measuring democracy can help us face democratic threats

A further interesting problem for organisations that measure democracy is how countries should be clustered together. In some applications (analyses of democratic backsliding, for example), it seems useful to use some of the more common adjectives of democracy that Gagnon has collected to distinguish between, say, liberal and delegative democracies. But there are clear limits to the number of adjectivally designated forms of democracy useful in applied work and analysis. Policy makers and journalists are not especially interested in reading a report documenting more than a few types of democracy. In this sense, while there may be thousands of particular forms of democracy, to make our work sensible to a non-specialist audience, it is helpful to limit ourselves to the discussion of just a few.

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The Science of Democracy

The Science of Democracy

Republished essays, in chronological order, from The Loop’s short essay series on the “science of democracy”