Call for papers – Special issue of Politics and Governance: “Why choice matters: Revisiting and comparing measures of democracy”

post by special issue guest editors Dr. Heiko Giebler (WZB Berlin Social Science Center,; Dr. Saskia Ruth (University of Zurich,; Dag Tanneberg (University of Potsdam,

This peer-reviewed special issue of Politics & Governance (an open-access journal) invites articles that compare at least two widely used measures of democracy to discuss one or more of the following topics: (1) differences in theoretical grounding and conceptualization of democracy; (2) differences in data choice and/or the effects of different rules of aggregation; or (3) how different measures of democracy impact substantive research questions. Whereas other publications have summarized the field of democracy measurement in broad strokes, this special issue will help scholars to make more informed choices between alternative measures of democracy for their own research program. 

Deadline for proposals: December 31st, 2016
Deadline for 1st drafts: May 25th, 2017
Authors workshop: early June 2017
Deadline for final submissions: September 2017
Publication of the special issue: February 2018

Over the past 25 years, the field of democracy measurement has grown tremendously. The continued scientific and public demand for measures of democracy generated an unprecedented wealth of measurement instruments all aiming to capture democracy. Yet, summarizing the development of the field since the 1960s Bollen (1991, 4) found scant evidence for a “smooth evolution towards clear theoretical definitions and finely calibrated instruments”. One decade later Munck and Verkuilen (2002, 28) still concluded that “no single index offers a satisfactory response to all three challenges of conceptualization, measurement, and aggregation”. But all is certainly not lost in measuring democracy. Rather, scholars have incorporated much of the critique. As a result, social sciences enjoy a vast supply of high quality approaches to measuring democracy. Today, the challenge is less to select a sound index of democracy and more to understand the theoretical and methodological differences between them.

This special issue in Politics & Governance (peer-reviewed and open access; indexing: Web of Science (ESCI), Scopus, and other databases) aims to provide a comprehensive evaluation of those differences in order to help scholars make more informed choices between alternative measures of democracy. It invites papers that analyze and discuss the substantive consequences of differences between at least two widely used measures of democracy. The list of measures includes but is not limited to Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI), Democracy Barometer, Democracy & Dictatorship, Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index, Freedom House, Polity IV, Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI), Unified Democracy Scores (UDS), Vanhanen, V-Dem, Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI), etc. Contributed articles should deal with at least one of the following three topics:

(1) Differences in theoretical grounding and conceptualization of democracy measures
The conceptual differences between graded measures of democracy are seldom in the focus of research. However, these can be quite substantial as in the cases of the Democracy Barometer and the Unified Democracy Scores. Whereas the former advances a detailed conceptualization of democracy, the latter projects several different indices of democracy unto a single latent variable. Alternatively, some measures follow a minimalistic definition of democracy while others go as far as including outcomes of democratic rule. What do such differences mean for theoretical grounding, conceptualization, and empirical analyses in democracy related research? Which measures can and should be used for which substantive research questions?

(2) Differences in data choice and rules of aggregation
On the one hand much in measuring democracy revolves around the nature and scaling of appropriate indicators. For instance, one key debate pits observables against expert judgments (Alvarez et al. 1996, Ulfelder 2006, Schedler 2012). But, do observables make better or do they merely make different data? Conversely, do expert judgments achieve higher validity or are they just biased in different ways? On the other hand, existing measures of democracy differ tremendously in their aggregation rules, ranging from necessary and sufficient conditions (Democracy & Dictatorship) to weighted sums (Freedom House, Polity IV, Democracy Barometer), and latent variable measurement models (UDS, V-DEM). What substantive differences do those alternatives imply? Can we in fact achieve greater confidence in empirical results by varying rules of aggregation (Munck and Verkuilen 2002, 25)?

(3) How different measures of democracy impact substantive research questions
Using Freedom House and Polity IV data, Casper and Tufis (2003) demonstrate that the choice of index matters for the study of democratization even though both measures are highly correlated. Do those discrepancies exist when using the Vanhanen, V-DEM, UDS, or Democracy Barometer data, too? Moreover, do they affect results in other important areas of research such as the domestic democratic peace, economic growth, and international conflict behavior? Valid contributions also include replication studies of influential publications using different measures of democracy.

Instructions for Authors
Authors interested in submitting a paper for this special issue are kindly requested to consult the journal’s editorial policies (here). Please send an abstract of about 250 words to any of the guest editors by December 31, 2016 latest. The guest editors will contact prospective contributors in late January 2017 with more detailed information. A two-day authors’ workshop is scheduled for early June 2017 and it will take place in either Berlin or Zurich. The guest editors are in the process of acquiring funds for covering travelling and accommodation costs.
Finally, interested authors are kindly requested to check that their institutions are able to cover open access publication costs of EUR 800. If an institution cannot cover the publication costs, the guest editors will provide assistance to acquire alternative funding.


Alvarez, Michael, Jose Antonio Cheibub, Adam Przeworski, and Fernando Limongi. 1996. “Classifying Political Regimes.” Studies in Comparative International Development 31 (2):3–36.

Bollen, Kenneth A. 1991. “Political Democracy: Conceptual and Measurement Traps.” In On measuring democracy, edited by Alex Inkeles, 3-20. New Brunswick; London: Transaction Publishers.

Casper, Gretchen, and Claudiu Tufis. 2003. “Correlation Versus Interchangeability: The Limited Robustness of Empirical Findings on Democracy Using Highly Correlated Data Sets.” Political Analysis 11 (2):196–203.

Munck, Gerardo L., and Jay Verkuilen. 2002. “Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy.” Comparative Political Studies 35 (1):5–34.

Schedler, Andreas. 2012. “Judgment and Measurement in Political Science.” Perspectives on Politics 10 (1):21–36.

Ulfelder, Jay. 2006. “Do “Observables” Really Produce Better Data?: Problems with the PACL Data Set for the Analysis of Regime Survival.”

In Bad Company: Hard Repression in Autocracies

Originally published on this blog in German on Septmeber 12th, 2013.

Political repression in the sense of systematic violation of civil and political rights is practically a defining property of autocracies. If autocratic governments want to stay in power they have to be in a position to repress dissidents and to eliminate opposition. Under these circumstances, political repression becomes a key tool. Whether the army of Myanmar savagely crushes the 1988 democracy movement or Alexander Lukashenko imprisons the presidential candidate of the opposition, the intention is the same: via political repression, autocratic regimes seek to prevent the development of forceful political opposition movements. But to what extent do autocracies actually resort to political repression? What developments are to be observed over time? And how does political repression affect the chances of democratization? These and closely related questions are addressed by the project “Critical Junctures and the Survival of Dictatorships. Explaining the Stability of Autocratic Regimes” at the WZB. Weiterlesen

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly? Das Demokratiebarometer stellt sich vor

Als Enrico Letta die mit Spannung erwartete Vertrauensabstimmung des italienischen Parlaments am 2. Oktober 2013 gewann, fand sein Kräftemessen mit dem ehemaligen Ministerpräsidenten Silvio Berlusconi ein überraschendes Ende. Nicht ohne Grund werteten zahlreiche Beobachter das Votum als Zeitenwende in der italienischen Politik. Angesichts Berlusconis zahlreicher streitbarer Initiativen, Stichwort Justizreform, sagt das politikwissenschaftliche Bauchgefühl, dass Italiens Demokratie in der „Ära Berlusconi“ nicht nur anders, sondern auch „schlechter“ war als bspw. die Demokratie Finnlands. Die Suche nach einer systematisch quantifizierenden Begründung dieser Intuition bleibt jedoch zunächst ergebnislos, denn die etablierten Demokratieratings von Freedom House oder Polity IV helfen nicht weiter. Schließlich weisen sie Italien nur die Bestnoten zu. Ebenso scheinen die USA trotz des US PATRIOT Acts a priori für die besten Bewertungen fest gebucht. Gleiches gilt für nahezu alle älteren Demokratien der OECD-Welt, welchen sowohl die Freedom House Skalen für political rights und civil rights als auch der Polity IV-Index unisono die Höchstnoten 1 bzw. 10 verleihen. Weiterlesen

In schlechter Gesellschaft: Harte Repression im Lager der Autokratien

Politische Repression im Sinne des systematischen Verstoßes gegen individuelle Abwehr- und politische Teilhaberechte ist nahezu ein definierendes Merkmal von Autokratien.  Sofern autokratische Regierungen sich an der Macht halten wollen, müssen sie in der Lage sein, Dissidenten zu unterdrücken und Oppositionskräfte auszuschalten. Vor diesem Hintergrund avanciert politische Repression zu einem zentralen Instrument. Ob nun die Armee Myanmars die Demokratiebewegung des Jahres 1988 blutig niederschlug oder Alexander Lukaschenko oppositionelle Präsidentschaftskandidaten inhaftiert, die Intention ist stets dieselbe: Durch politische Repression erschweren Autokratien den Aufbau einer schlagkräftigen politischen Oppositionsbewegungen nachhaltig. In welchem Umfang aber greifen Autokratien tatsächlich auf politische Repression zurück, welche Entwicklungen sind über Zeit zu beobachten und wie wirkt sich politische Repression auf die Chance eines politischen Systemwechsels hin zur Demokratie aus? Diesen und eng verwandten Fragen geht das Projekt „Critical Junctures and the Survival of Dictatorships. Explaining the Stability of Autocratic Regimes“ am WZB nach. Weiterlesen