Recentring the demos in the measurement of democracy

Article by Seema Shah: “Rethinking how we measure and evaluate democratic performance is vital to reversing a longstanding negative trend in global democracy. We must confront the past, including democracy’s counter-intuitively intrinsic inequality. This is key to revitalising institutions in a way that allows democratic practice to live up to its potential…

In the global democracy assessment space, teams like the one I lead at International IDEA compete to provide the most rigorous, far-reaching and understandable set of democracy measurements in the world. Alexander Hudson explains how critical these indicators are, providing important benchmarks for democratic growth and decline to policymakers, governments, international organisations, and journalists.

Yet in so many ways, the core of what these datasets measure and help assess are largely the same. This redundancy is no doubt at least partially a product of wealthy donors’ prioritisation of liberal democracy as an ideal. It is compounded by how the measures are calculated. As Adam Przeworksi recently stated, reliance on expert coders runs the risk of measuring little other than those experts’ biases.

But if that is the case, and quantitative measurements continue to be necessary for democracy assessment, shouldn’t we rethink exactly what we are measuring and how we are measuring it?..

Democracy assessment indices do not typically measure ordinary people’s evaluations of the state of democracy. Instead, other specialised ‘barometers’ often take on this task. See, for example, AfrobarometerEurobarometerAsian Barometer, and LatinobarometroSurveys of public perceptions on a range of issues also exist, including, but not limited to democracy. The problem is, however, that these do not systematically make it into overall democracy assessments or onto policymakers’ desks. This means that policymakers and others do not consistently prioritise or consider lived experiences as they make decisions about democracy and human rights-related funding and interventions…(More)”.