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.“

Brexit: Risk and fun of majority rule and direct democracy

Listening to the news on the morning of the 23rd of July 2016 was a surprise for many. In a public discussion the previous evening, Wolfgang Merkel and Michael Zürn, both directors at the WZB Social Science Research Center, had expected a vote for “remain”, not “leave,” in line with TV and other sources. What is worrisome is not that the prognoses were wrong but the outcome.

17.410.742 voted “leave”, 16.141.241 “remain”. This is a majority for “leave”. However, to be clear: this isn’t a decision of the majority at all. Only 34,4 percent of eligible voters voted for „leave“. This is little more than a third. About 91,6 percent registered to vote, which is 4.279.182 fewer than all eligible voters. This is lower than the Alternative Vote referendum of 2011 (93,0 %) and much lower than the European Community (Common Market) Membership Referendum of 1975 (99,5%).Turnout among registered voters was 72,2 percent. Even if we calculate solely on the basis of registered voters, only 37,4 of those registered voted for “leave”.

For a country that advertises its own majoritarian electoral system as democratically superior to proportional representation, it seems to be acceptable to execute a decision supported only by a minority. If we take majority decisions seriously, however, it follows that there should be a positive absolute majority of eligible voters. This certainly does not require that registration and turnout amount to 100 percent. In the Brexit referendum, it would have meant that about 25,39 million voters, or 75,7 percent of those registered, would have had to vote for “leave” in order to speak of a majority in a substantial sense. A majority of the entire membership is a requirement in many decision-bodies for changing the status quo. And leaving the EU is certainly a fundamental change of the situation of the UK.

Although a margin of almost 1,3 million votes for “leave” seems to be enough to conform to the classic British position of a majority victory, it seems problematic given the considerable opposition to the exit. There are at least three fundamental splits: a regional, a rural-urban, and a generational one.

Regionally, in Scotland all constituencies had a majority for “remain”; England, Wales, and Northern Ireland showed differences between constituencies. England and Wales voted in favor of exit, Northern Ireland for “remain”. A second split is between rural and urban areas. In most urban districts, in particular in and around the bigger cities above 250 thousand inhabitants, a majority voted for “remain”. The third split is between young and old. According to data from polls, 57 percent of voters of age 65 and higher voted for “leave”. They represent 17 percent of the population. Among the voters below 65, about 44 percent voted for “leave”. If the older voters had voted in the same proportion as the younger, “leave” votes would have been about 14,7 million instead of 17,4 million. That would not have been enough.

The UK now is facing a split between Scotland and the South, urban and rural areas, and young and old. The older citizens were decisive for a decision affecting a much longer future than they themselves will be affected by.

Against this background, making use of representative democracy would probably not be the worst solution. The Parliament can still decide. Whatever the decision will be, there is a clear lesson for direct democracy: get the rules right so that majority does not in fact mean minority.

Table: Turnout and Result of Brexit Referendum for Votes, Registered Voters, and Eligible Voting Population

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The European Union: Too much democracy, too little or both?

By Richard Rose

This blog post was originally posted on the Oxford University Press.

In a symbolic gesture toward creating an ever closer Union, the EuropeanUnion conferred citizenship on everyone who was also a subject of one of its member states. However, the rights of European citizens are more like those of subjects of a the pre-1914 Germain Kaiser than of a 21st century European democracy. Citizens have the right to vote for members of the European Parliament (EP) but this does not make the EU’s governors accountable as is the case in a normal parliamentary democracy. The result is a democratic deficit. Weiterlesen

„Is capitalism compatible with democracy?“ Vortrag von Wolfgang Merkel in Lissabon

Unter dem provokanten Titel „Is capitalism compatible with democracy?“ hat Wolfgang Merkel am 6. November einen Vortrag am Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE) gehalten. Die Veranstaltung wurde von ISCTE und der Friedrich Ebert Stiftung organisiert.

Die Folien und das Video des Vortrages findet ihr hier.

Interview with Wolfgang Merkel: Democracies and their Crises Reconsidered

Jean-Paul Gagnon (Australian Catholic University) interviews Wolfgang Merkel on the state of democratic theory, democratic quality and crises. The interview will soon be published in the forthcoming book by Jean-Paul Gagnon, Democracies Across Dialogues: Presents, Pasts and Futures.


Towards the End of the left / right Paradigm

With the rise of populism on both sides of the political scpectrum, raising new oppositions, is the traditional left/right political divide still relevant to understand contemporary European societies? Four experts from Europe and beyond answer this critical question.

This commentary was first published in QUERIES, Spring 2015, p. 27-31


In Search of Lost Consensus: Finnish Politics Four Years after the „jytky“

Saara Inkinen, Research Fellow of the Research Unit Democracy and Democratization

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, the ceding Prime Minister Alexander Stubb was asked to reflect upon his time in office with an eye to the upcoming Finnish parliamentary elections on April 19. His response was as short as it was poignant: his premiership had been a „traumatic experience“.[i] Looking back on the four years that have passed since the last parliamentary elections in 2011, it is not difficult to see what prompted Stubb to make this statement. Finnish politics has traditionally been guided by the principle of consensus, which has allowed political elites across the left-right spectrum to reach pragmatic compromises on core societal issues. Yet the past parliamentary term has been anything but consensual. Not only has the coalition government been torn by internal disagreements almost since the day of its inception; it has also proven incapable of taking much-needed political action to combat a shrinking economy, rising unemployment rates and a state budget deficit that is predicted to swell to 124 billion Euros in the coming years. In short, Stubb’s cabinet is at real risk to go down in history as one of the worst governments the country has ever had.


The Game is not over: There is more than Protests and Football going on in Brazil

All eyes are now turned to Brazil, the „country of football“, which happens to host this year’s World Cup. Weeks before the start of the tournament, international newspapers were already filling their pages with articles about Brazil’s purported many problems: inequality, poverty, criminality, corruption, and massive protests all over. Television programs also featured infrastructure deficiencies everywhere, making the audience wonder whether international football stars would get stuck on unfinished roads and airports, besides facing the poor living conditions supposedly faced by Brazilian people every day. The sunny beaches and the beautiful tropical landscape have surely also been broadcasted, contrasted with sad images from the country’s many favelas and slums. In almost all means of communications, journalists spent weeks doing political analysis just as well as they did football predictions. Weiterlesen

The Uncertain Outcome of Protests in Venezuela

Laura Gamboa, Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Notre Dame

Last February, Venezuela saw the beginning of widespread student demonstrations gainst  Nicolás Maduro’s government. ((For more information on Venezuela in English I recommend the Caracas Chronicles.)) For a while, it seemed like the government was not going to stand the pressure. Four months, 41 deaths and 3864 detentions later (Foro Penal Venezolano), however, things have not changed much. Weiterlesen

Why do elections not stop inequality?

Throughout the past two centuries, capitalism and democracy have proven themselves to be the most successful systems of economic and political order. Following the demise of Soviet-style socialism and the transformations of China’s economy, capitalism has become predominant across the world. The success of democracy in the last quarter of the twentieth century was equally impressive. Compared to capitalism, however, its success is much less complete. Weiterlesen