Measuring the quality of democracy

Introduction by , , and  of Special Issue of the International Political Science Review on Measuring the Quality of Democracy: “Within the last couple of years, scholarly interest in measuring democracy experienced a shift. While ‘classical’ indices like Polity or Freedom House aim at capturing the variety of regimes types – mostly in nuanced scale from democracies to autocracies – more recent approaches are taking a closer look at those democracies that are regarded as consolidated. Examples are the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU, 2012), the Democracy Barometer (Bühlmann et al., 2013), and the Varieties of Democracy Project (Coppedge et al., 2011). Measuring the quality of consolidated democracies is a young yet very dynamic field of research, with the number of indices growing considerably. Today, more than a dozen different measurements claim to evaluate the quality of democracy. However, there is no consensus about underlying models of democracy, concepts, variables, yardsticks and methods. This research field is still in its fledgling stages (e.g. Munck, 2016).

This Special Issue has a conceptual orientation that seeks to structure as well as to broaden the research agenda by introducing hitherto neglected, yet, in our view, crucial aspects. It therefore does not intend to supplement the methodological debate that accompanies the research area of democracy measurement ever since its emergence. The guiding idea is rather to offer a fresh look, with conceptual contributions clarifying current debates and challenging existing conceptualizations. Hence, these objectives cannot be reached at one stroke with one single edition, but the articles provide crucial steps and substantial progress in the direction of developing an overarching framework for the quality of democracy research.

Before providing detail, we want to clarify our understanding of measuring the quality of democracy, which seems diffuse at times. Measuring democracy pursues two aims, firstly, to classify whether a regime is a democracy and, secondly, if it is, to determine the degree of democracy (Lauth, 2004). The second task requires analyzing whether empirical findings meet the standard defined in the respective definitions of democracy. If the results conform to this standard, the democracy is assessed as of high quality. If the definition of democracy involves only a low standard, then differences among established democracies can hardly be identified. In other words, gradations of democratic quality cannot be detected. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a standard that enables gradations. Given this demanding task, the current conceptual controversies are not surprising.

A central issue which runs like a thread through the debate on measuring the quality of democracy constitutes the question of which definition of democracy to identify as the basis….(More)”.