General Question

LostInParadise's avatar

How do people measure the degree of democracy?

Asked by LostInParadise (31940points) January 5th, 2024

You have probably heard about people saying that democracy in America is declining and then showing numbers to back this up. What I would like to know is how these numbers are computed. Is there some document that says what factors are computed and how they are combined? There are probably a combination of qualitative and quantitative factors, which is fine, but what is the formula?

For example, I checked the Varieties of Democracy Web site over here and did not find much in the way of specifics.

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4 Answers

seawulf575's avatar

This is a good article about this. From what I can gather, you can measure democracy at least a dozen ways to Tuesday. There are several sources like the Varieties of Democracy that do this. The problem seems to come from what each group of “experts” are defining as “Democracy”. The WaPo article pointed out two different groups did an evaluation of Russia. Their rating of Democracy in Russia were 180 degrees out from each other. One group was looking at how much democracy is used to reign in the elites. In this case, how much the Duma (their congress equivalent) challenged the decisions of the leaders (Putin). The other group looked at how much democracy helped the people of the country. The first group said Russia was great at Democracy, the second said they sucked.

Like any evaluation, you have to start with common definitions, common understandings, and common measurements. Without that you get results that are all over the place and, therefore, become meaningless.

janbb's avatar

Not planning to do a lengthy analysis, but I would think one key factor is voting rights, i.e., access to polling stations and how hard it is to register.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Depending if their side wins.

flutherother's avatar

If it’s difficult to define you will at least know it by its absence. For example, if Trump takes 98% of the vote, I will suspect something is wrong. Were he to refuse to give up the presidency after 4 years for whatever reason it is probably already too late. If you notice that the mass media has become much less diverse and publishes only good news stories then autocracy is taking root.

If only people who wear MAGA hats to work get promoted and those who protest get beaten up or murdered then democracy is failing. When you become suspicious of your neighbours and fear is in the air then you will know you have arrived in the autocracy only you can’t call it that, it will be known as perfectly democratic. After all, you can’t argue with that 98% can you?

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