Friday, November 24, 2006

Assessing democracy

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.


Replace red or green with blue and colour blind people could see the map...

Posted by Anonymous : 11/24/2006 01:35:00 PM

Sorry - I went with the obvious colour scheme. I'll see what I can do.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/24/2006 01:43:00 PM

I'm intrigued by the work in political theory and economics on the correlation between democracy and wealth. It would be interesting to see how a 'wealth' map of the world (per capita income as a measure, I suppose) relates to this 'democracy' map.

Fascinating map, thanks, I/S.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/24/2006 01:50:00 PM

DFR: there's some discussion of this in the article; there's a definite correlation (especially after controlling for oil wealth), but the causal direction is not so clear cut.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/24/2006 02:04:00 PM

I don't think Mexico deserves yellow, orange maybe. With its death squads, corruption, flawed election, it is hardly a model of democracy. Ask the Oaxacans.

Posted by Larry Gambone : 11/24/2006 02:54:00 PM

Sonme odd results.

I don't believe that corruption in Italy makes it a "flawed democracy" - people vote, they can change (and just did) change the government, the election ssyetm allows all views to be represented, the country accepts an enforceable, supranational human rights code and arbiter.

I'd expect to see the above taken into consideration. If they did, countries like NZ and Australia would drop down, as would the UK and US. Continental European states and S. Africa would move up.

Posted by Rich : 11/24/2006 03:45:00 PM

Rich: well, the problem with corruption is that it means that democratic decisions are not implemented, and are instead replaced by the decisions of those with money. That's why its considered important here.

They're ignoring international law because they're focusing on the substantive issue of whether human rights are protected and respected - not by whom and how. And while I agree that adherence to international law is a Good Thing, it doesn't have that much to do with democratic government.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/24/2006 03:57:00 PM

Have a look at Iraq - Red under Saddam, Orange now, hopefully it can be made 'Greener' soon.

Posted by Michael : 11/24/2006 04:10:00 PM


This reminded me that I started creating an alternative table based on anti-authoritarian principles. I'll get back to it and have it in by next week.

Indcidentally Italy does pretty well and the US really badly. NZ is in the middle, let down by things like lack of an enforcable human rights code, attitudes to drug use and our incarceration rate.

Posted by Rich : 11/24/2006 04:50:00 PM

I like it better than the Freedom House one, but wtf is with Australia (with significantly greater corruption and a distastrously level of press freedom) getting a better score than NZ?!

Posted by Anonymous : 11/24/2006 05:01:00 PM

Huskynut: Look at the table. Australia does better on "functioning of government" and "political culture" (though worse on participation). Digging around in the World Values Survey data (1995 and 98 available for Aus and NZ respectively) shows that the former is probably due to our far lower level of "confidence in government" (~26% of Australians have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in government; for NZ, thanks to Roger Douglas and Jim Bolger, its 16%, which is enough to put us half a point lower. Interestingly, cynicism towards government and political parties is why our governments are considered "dysfunctional" by the EIU. I regard it as the only sane attitude to have). On the latter, there seems tobe little difference in attitudes between the two countries (actually, that's not true: Australians are more fascist, being more likely to favour strong leaders and military rule, or at least they were ten years ago). The difference works out to half a point on one question, and it could be something quite small. Or else someone is looking at our diversity and deciding that we have "insufficient social cohesion" or some such bullshit...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/24/2006 10:56:00 PM

Anon: A blue-yellow-orange-red version for those suffering from R/G colour-blindness is here.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/26/2006 04:19:00 PM

what software do you use to make these maps?

Posted by giordano bruno : 11/27/2006 12:49:00 PM

Giordano: Paint and a blank map from WikiCommons. All it requires is some knowledge of where various countries are (and a backup atlas, since I can never remember which carribean island is which).

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/27/2006 01:00:00 PM