The definition of democracy is difficult to pin down and is often controversial. In this entry, we mostly use the definition and metric by the Polity IV, which defines democracy as a system which has institutions in which citizens can express their preferences, has constraints on the power of the executive, and a guarantee of civil liberties.
# Empirical View
# Number of Democracies
The majority of the world’s countries are now governed by democratic regimes, defined as systems with citizen political participation, constraints on the power of the executive, and a guarantee of civil liberties. The first graph shows that this is a development that happened over the last 200 years. The rise of democracies has been only interrupted by the atrocities during the two World Wars, and the number of democracies has been growing hugely after the breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1989. By clicking on ‘Autocracies’ and ‘Anocracies’, you can also see that after 1989 the number of autocracies has decreased dramatically while the number of anocracies initially increased then has stayed fairly stable.
# World maps of political regimes, 1800 to present – Max Roser2
# Share of World Population Living in Democracies
The population between countries varies hugely; therefore it is more interesting to look at the number of people instead of the number of countries that are governed by democratic regimes. By clicking on ‘Expanded’, the following graph shows that by 1997 more than 60% of the world’s population lived in democratic regimes, and that proportion has stayed fairly stable since.Full screen view Download image of chart in shares Download image of chart in absolute numbers
# World Maps of the Distribution of Political Freedom
The world has changed from predominantly autocratic to largely democratic. Most countries in Europe and the Americas have democratized. Some parts of Africa – especially in the West and the South – have democratized and so have countries in Asia; India is the world’s largest democracy. Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Mongolia are all full democracies according to the Polity evaluation. The following world map of the age of democratic regimes shows that a democratic world is still a very recent achievement is shown in the following world map. It also indicates that economic success goes together with political liberation. The countries that have democratized first are mostly those countries that first achieved economic growth. The present rates of economic growth therefore give hope for further democratization around the world.
# World map of the age of democratic regimes – years before 2007 since the (last) transition to a democratic regime – Max Roser4
# Correlates, Determinants & Consequences
There appears to be a correlation the length of schooling for people above 15 years old and how democratic a country is. The relationship is starkest when the years of schooling is approximately 7 or more. For countries with lower mean years of schooling, the strength of the democracy is less easily predicted by education levels. See our entry on literacy for more information about global educational attainment.
# Correlation between education and democracy: average years of schooling in the 15+ population in 1970 and political regime 2013 – Max Roser5Full screen view Download Data
# Data Quality & Definition
A much cited, thorough evaluation of commonly used democracy measures has been presented by Munck and Verkuilen (2002).6 Unfortunately the authors find a trade-off between the comprehensiveness of the empirical scope and the quality of the assessment in terms of conceptualization, measurement and aggregation. According to the authors, the Polity IV measures are a ‘partial exception’ of this tradeoff, and therefore I rely on these measures mostly in this overview. In general, the Polity IV defines democracy as a system which has institutions in which citizens can express their preferences, has constraints on the power of the executive, and a guarantee of civil liberties. It defines an autocracy as a system that restricts political participation by citizens, has executives chosen within the political elite, and executives with few institutional constraints.
The Manifesto-Project by the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung is an effort to understand political changes in democratic countries. This project undertakes a qualitative analysis of party manifestos for 50 countries since 1945.
This graph compares the two measures that are available for a very long time – since the early 19th century – and shows that they largely move together. It is not the number of countries before but the share of democratic countries among all independent countries.
# Long Run
# Polity Index
- Data: Many different measures – listed here. Most commonly used is the Polity2 measure which measures political systems on a spectrum between autocracy and democracy. 8
- Geographical coverage: Global – by country.
- Time span: Data goes back to 1800 and is yearly updated.
- Available at: The website is here. Older versions of the POLITY dataset are available at Kristian Gleditsch’s Polity Data Archive.
- This data set is compiled at Colorado State University. More comments on the Polity measures can be found at DevEconData.
# Vanhanen’s Index of Democracy
- Data: Competition, Participation, and Index of Democracy
- Geographical coverage: Global – 187 countries
- Time span: Since 1810
- Available at: Online here.
- Criticized by Munck and Verkuilen (2002).9
# Boix-Miller-Rosato dichotomous coding of democracy, 1800-2007
- Data: Dichotomous democracy measure, Dichotomous indicator of sovereignty/independence, Previous number of democratic breakdowns, Consecutive years of current regime type
- Geographical coverage: Global.
- Time span: 1800-2007
- Available at: The data is available at Michael K. Miller’s website.
- Relatively new.
# Recent Decades
# Freedom House
- Data: Measures of political and civil liberties
- Geographical coverage: Global
- Time span: Since 1973
- Available at: Online here
- Criticized by Munck and Verkuilen (see last side note)
# Democracy-Dictatorship Data
- Data: Classification of political regimes as democracy and dictatorship (and classification of democracies as parliamentary, semi-presidential (mixed) and presidential).
- Geographical coverage: Global – 202 countries.
- Time span: From 1946 or year of independence to 2008.
- Available at: Online at José Antonio Cheibub’s website.
- The accompanying paper is Cheibub, Gandhi, and Vreeland (2010).11
# Papaioannou and Siourounis “Democratization and Growth”
- Data: Year when permanent democratization happened
- Geographical coverage: Global – by country
- Time span: 1960-2003
- Available at: Data and paper available for download at Papaioannou’s website.
# Varieties of Democracy
- Data: Varieties of Democracy data
- Geographical coverage: Global – 206 countries.
- Time span: 1900 to present
- Available at: Online at www.v-dem.net.