The Different Approaches to Democracy Measurement

Democracy is the form of government that allows a large number of people to participate in decision making at all levels. This form of governance has been associated with a range of political outcomes, including greater economic prosperity and social equality. It is also often seen as being one of the most important enabling conditions for human development, which is defined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a “commitment to promote and protect all human rights, fundamental freedoms and dignity of all individuals”.

Despite the many different approaches to measuring democracy, there is no single approach that captures all aspects of this complex phenomenon. The various methods are complementary and different approaches have different strengths in capturing particular characteristics of democracy. It is therefore useful to have multiple ways of assessing the state of democracy globally.

Different approaches to democracy measurement have very different trade-offs. For example, how the methods classify different political systems has a big impact on what differences they can pick up. In addition, the way each method scores democracy has a big impact on what conclusions are drawn about it. All of the measures have merit, but it is necessary to understand how each measure works in order to use them effectively.

The main approaches to democracy measurement are indices, surveys and expert-based assessments (such as evaluating constitutions and law). There is no single best measure of democracy because the concept of democracy is too complex and the measurements too different. However, the fact that there are so many different approaches is a strength: it gives us a variety of tools to understand the past spread, current state, and possible future developments of democracy in the world.

One popular justification for democracy appeals to the value of liberty. It is argued that people have a right to self-government because their lives are deeply affected by the larger social, legal and cultural environment they live in. The only way they can exercise control over this environment is through participation in democratic decision-making.

Another justification is that democracy is the best way to exploit the underlying cognitive diversity of groups of people to solve complex problems. It is argued that the democratic procedures of discussion and debate are best equipped to make use of this diversity and can thus be more likely to produce good policies than other forms of decision-making.

A final justification is that democracy increases moral qualities in citizens. It is argued that being involved in democratic decision-making forces citizens to think carefully and rationally, to consider the interests of others, and to reflect on the values of justice and the common good. This in turn makes it more difficult for them to be coerced by others or to be tricked into accepting corrupt or immoral decisions. This is referred to as “motivated reasoning”. It is also argued that democracy leads to higher levels of trust in societies. This is because citizens can better see when governments are acting in their own interest or against them.