Competitive elections

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What you should know about this indicator

  • It considers the incumbent changing after multi-party elections as a strong indicator, but neither necessary nor sufficient.
  • It does not consider whether all contestants have access to funding and the media, and media coverage is unbiased.

The chief executive offices and seats in the effective legislative body are filled by elections characterized by uncertainty, meaning that the elections are, in principle, sufficiently free to enable the opposition to gain power if they were to attract sufficient support from the electorate. This presumes that control over key executive and legislative offices is determined by elections, the executive and members of the legislature have not been unconstitutionally removed, and the legislature has not been dissolved. With respect to the electoral process, this presumes that the constitutional timing of elections has not been violated (in a more than marginal fashion), non- extremist parties are not banned, opposition candidates are generally free to participate, voters experience little systematic coercion in exercising their electoral choice, and electoral fraud does not determine who wins. With respect to the outcome, this presumes that the declared winner of executive and legislative elections reflects the votes cast by the electorate, as near as can be determined from extant sources. Incumbent turnover (as a result of multi-party elections) is regarded as a strong indicator of competition, but is neither necessary nor sufficient. In addition, we rely on reports from outside observers (as reported in books, articles, and country reports) about whether the foregoing conditions have been met in a given election. Coding for this variable does not take into account whether there is a level playing field, whether all contestants gain access to funding and media, whether media coverage is unbiased, whether civil liberties are respected, or other features associated with fully free and fair elections. 1=present, 0=absent.

Equivalent indicator: competitive_elections

Competitive elections
Whether the outcomes of elections are uncertain because their timing is not violated, voters are not systematically coerced, and election fraud is not consequential.
Skaaning et al. (2023) – processed by Our World in Data
Last updated
May 9, 2024
Next expected update
May 2025
Date range

Sources and processing

This data is based on the following sources

LIED is the most comprehensive dataset on democracy in terms of country-years. It covers all independent countries and most semi-sovereign polities and overseas colonies, protectorates, etc. within the 1789 to 2020 timespan. Scores have also been assigned to the units in the case of short-term foreign occupation. Scores for each indicator reflect the status of a country on the last day of the calendar year (31 December) and are not intended to reflect the mean value of an indicator across the previous 364 days. Coding decisions are based on country-specific sources.

All original coding has been done by Svend-Erik Skaaning. Svend-Erik Skaaning has developed the conceptual distinctions and cumulative logic associated with the lexical index in collaboration with John Gerring. The distinctions regarding modes of democratic transition and breakdown have been developed by Svend-Erik Skaaning, 1 who has also developed the turnover variables. Henrikas Bartusevicius was in charge of empirical analyses and the coding linked to the inter-coder reliability test presented in the dataset paper (see below).

The dataset consists of 14 original indicators and two original indices. The LIED dataset offers indicators on whether legislative elections are on track (legislative_elections), whether (direct or indirect) executive elections are on track (executive_elections), whether multiple parties are able to run for legislative elections (multi-party_legislative_elections), whether there is universal male suffrage (male_suffrage), and whether there is universal female suffrage (female_suffrage),2 whether elections are genuinely contested (competitive_elections), whether political liberties in the form of freedom of expression, assembly, and association, are respected (political_liberties), whether countries experienced democratic transition in a given year (democratic_transition), the mode of democratic transition (transition_type), whether countries experienced democratic breakdown in a given year (democratic_breakdown), the mode of democratic breakdown (breakdown_type),whether elections led to a government turnover (turnover_event), and whether a period of competitive elections has been characterized by at least one government turnover (turnover_period). Finally, the data are used to construct two indices, i.e., the Lexical Index of Electoral Democracy (lexical_index) and an extended version called Lexical Index of Electoral Democracy+ (lexical_index_plus).

Retrieved on
May 9, 2024
This is the citation of the original data obtained from the source, prior to any processing or adaptation by Our World in Data. To cite data downloaded from this page, please use the suggested citation given in Reuse This Work below.
Skaaning, Svend-Erik, John Gerring and Henrikas Bartusevičius. 2015. A Lexical Index of Electoral Democracy. Comparative Political Studies 48(12):1491-1525.

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All data and visualizations on Our World in Data rely on data sourced from one or several original data providers. Preparing this original data involves several processing steps. Depending on the data, this can include standardizing country names and world region definitions, converting units, calculating derived indicators such as per capita measures, as well as adding or adapting metadata such as the name or the description given to an indicator.

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Notes on our processing step for this indicator

Data for former USSR member states has been obtained by imputing the values of the USSR. This includes: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Moldova.

Data for former Czechoslovakia member states has been obtained by imputing the values of Czechoslovakia. This includes: Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Data for former Yugoslavia member states has been obtained by imputing the values of Yugoslavia. This includes: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and North Macedonia.

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To cite this page overall, including any descriptions, FAQs or explanations of the data authored by Our World in Data, please use the following citation:

“Data Page: Competitive elections”, part of the following publication: Bastian Herre, Lucas Rodés-Guirao, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser (2013) - “Democracy”. Data adapted from Skaaning et al.. Retrieved from [online resource]
How to cite this data

In-line citationIf you have limited space (e.g. in data visualizations), you can use this abbreviated in-line citation:

Skaaning et al. (2023) – processed by Our World in Data

Full citation

Skaaning et al. (2023) – processed by Our World in Data. “Competitive elections” [dataset]. Skaaning et al., “Lexical Index of Electoral Democracy (LIED) v6.5” [original data]. Retrieved July 20, 2024 from