European Tribune pointed me at an interesting effort by the Economist Intelligence Unit to compile an index of democracy [PDF] to compete with the well-known Freedom House effort. Where Freedom House rates categories on a 1-7 scale, the EIU have a series of 60 binary or trinary questions, grouped into five categories: electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil rights. These are then averaged on a 1-10 scale to produce an overall score. The results are what you'd expect, though with a few surprises. Scandinavia and the Netherlands take the top spots, while western European countries dominate the list of full democracies (New Zealand comes in 11th equal). Interestingly, Italy falls into the "flawed" category due to governance and participation problems (meaning corruption, lack of transparency, and lack of confidence in the political system). The US is an odd-man out in the top bracket, having a poorer civil liberties score (thanks to torture and discrimination), and an electoral process rating that belongs well down in the "flawed" category (basically, they can't run clean elections - unlike, say, Chile and Botswana).
The "flawed" category actually seems to be two categories. There's a group of countries with very high ratings in electoral processes and civil liberties, which are held back by poor governance and political culture - basically free and democratic, but it needs time to bed in - and a group with far more mixed scores which seem to be still very much developing towards democratic government (hopefully). Israel is another outlier in this group - it has the electoral, political and cultural characteristics of a full democracy, but held back by an abominable civil liberties score (discrimination, murder, and torture, plus a lack of security).
Because its difficult to get an overall impression from the tables, I've done a map. Full democracies are in green, flawed in yellow, hybrid regimes in orange and authoritarian regimes in red. Microstates and countries for which there was no data (Somalia) are in grey:
(Click for larger version).
It doesn't look so good, but a lot of those yellow areas in South America are well on the way to going green; all they need is a little more time.
Finally, the methodology and questions are published in the back of the article; it would be interesting to compile scores for some of our neighbours (Samoa and Tonga particularly) to see how they rate.