Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: A New Approach

Topics: Democracy, Deliberative democracy, Direct democracy Pages: 74 (15824 words) Published: December 5, 2013


Research Articles

Conceptualizing and Measuring
Democracy: A New Approach
Michael Coppedge and John Gerring, with David Altman, Michael Bernhard, Steven Fish, Allen Hicken, Matthew Kroenig, Staffan I. Lindberg, Kelly McMann, Pamela Paxton, Holli A. Semetko, Svend-Erik Skaaning, Jeffrey Staton, and Jan Teorell.1

In the wake of the Cold War, democracy has gained the status of a mantra. Yet there is no consensus about how to conceptualize and measure regimes such that meaningful comparisons can be made through time and across countries. In this prescriptive article, we argue for a new approach to conceptualization and measurement. We first review some of the weaknesses among traditional approaches. We then lay out our approach, which may be characterized as historical, multidimensional, disaggregated, and transparent. We end by reviewing some of the payoffs such an approach might bring to the study of democracy.

n the wake of the Cold War, democracy has gained the
status of a mantra. Perhaps no other concept is as central to policymakers and scholars. Yet there is no consensus about how to conceptualize and measure regimes such that meaningful comparisons can be made through

time and across countries. Skeptics may wonder if such
comparisons are possible at all.

While this conclusion may seem persuasive, one must
also consider the costs of not comparing in a systematic
fashion. Without some way of analyzing regime types
through time and across countries we have no way to
mark progress or regress on this vital matter, to explain it, to reveal its consequences, or to affect its future course.
This may account for the ubiquity of crossnational indices such as Freedom House, Polity, and Democracy/


Michael Coppedge is Professor of Political Science and a
Faculty Fellow of the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame ( He has served as Chair of the APSA
Task Force on Indicators of Democracy and Governance.
(Although this collaboration has many synergies with the
APSA task force, this article is not a product of the task
force and does not necessarily represent the views of its
members.) John Gerring is Professor of Political Science at
Boston University ( He served as a member of The National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on the Evaluation of USAID Programs to Support the Development of Democracy in 2006–07 and as President of the APSA’s Organized Section on Qualitative and MultiMethod Research in 2007–09. The authors’ names are listed alphabetically to reflect equal contributions. The

authors thank the Kellogg Institute at Notre Dame and the
Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at
Boston University for their generous support.
The other collaborators—David Altman (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile), Michael Bernhard (University of Florida), Steven Fish (University of California, Berkeley), Allen Hicken (University of Michigan), Matthew Kroenig (Georgetown University), Kelly McMann (Case

Western Reserve University), Pamela Paxton (University of
Texas at Austin), Holli Semetko (Emory University),
Svend-Erik Skaaning (Aarhus University), Jeffrey Staton
(Emory University), and especially Staffan I. Lindberg
(Gothenburg University and the University of Florida) and
Jan Teorell (Lund University)—are participants in an
ongoing effort to implement the approach described here
and have made many substantive contributions to this
article. The authors also thank others who generously commented on various drafts of the manuscript: André Bächtiger, Tabitha Benney, David Black, Christian Davenport, John Dryzek, Amitava Dutt, Tasha Fairfield, Tiago

Fernandes, Robert Fishman, Archon Fung, Larry Garber,
Carlos Gervasoni, Clark Gibson, Jack Goldstone, John
Griffin, Rita Guenther, Jonathan Hartlyn, Macartan
Humphreys, Jo Husbands, Sebastian Karcher, Phil Keefer,
Fabrice Lehoucq, Jim...

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