The Democracy Barometer is a new index of democracy. It aims to overcome the conceptual and methodological shortcomings of existing measures, in order to measure the subtle differences in the quality of established democracies.
Most of the previous indices of democracy have a minimalist conceptual basis which is useful to distinguish democratic from non-democratic regimes. However, 'democracy' is a complex phenomenon and a minimalist measurement cannot do justice to it. The Democracy Barometer is therefore based on a middle range concept of democracy, embracing liberal as well as participatory ideas of democracy, which illuminate the phenomenon from different perspectives).
It consists of a stepwise theoretical deduction of fundamental elements of democracy. The starting point is the premise that a democratic system tries to establish a good balance between the normative, interdependent values of freedom and equality and that this requires control. In order to guarantee these three fundamental principles and thus the quality of democracy, nine democratic functions need to be fulfilled. Every function is further disaggregated into two components each, which finally, are measured by several sub-components and indicators (see also codebook). The choice of indicators and scales as well as the rules of aggregation rely on theoretical considerations and empirical tests (also see methodology).
In the understanding of the Democracy Barometer project, democracy rests on three principles: freedom, control and equality.
Freedom refers to the absence of heteronomy, and freedom rights are above all rights which protect an individual from infringements by the state. Historically, the most important of these rights under a secure rule of law have become one of the minimal conditions for democratic regimes.
Equality - particularly understood as political equality - means that all citizens are treated as equals in the political process, have equal rights to influence decision-making and have equal access to political power.
Freedom and equality can be seen as the most fundamental and driving principles in the development of modern territorial states. The two principles interact and can constrain each other but they are not generally irreconcilable. Guaranteeing as well as optimizing and balancing freedom and equality are the core challenge of a democratic system. The third principle, control, serves to equilibrate this unstable balance. However, control has two different meanings in democracies. On the one hand, citizens ought to control their representatives in the government in order to secure freedom and equality. This control can be exercised vertically by means of elections or horizontally by constitutional checks and balances. On the other hand, responsive governments mut be able to act, which requires a certain amount of autonomy. The executive should be limited by the democratic process and jurisdiction.
In the section below nine functions (individual liberties, rule of law, public sphere, competition, mutual constraints, governmental capability, transparency, participation and representation) measuring the fulfilment of the democratic principles freedom, control and equality are presented.
The existence and guarantee of individual liberties is the most important prerequisite for democratic self- and co-determination. Individual liberties primarily secure the inviolability of the private sphere. This requires the right to physical integrity (component 1), which embraces constitutional human rights provisions and the ratification of important human rights conventions. These are seen as an indication that a culture maintains the effective right to physical integrity. The effective and real protection of this right is mirrored by the fact that there are no transgressions by the state, such as torture or other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatments or punishments. Furthermore, "[S]tates are only effective in rights protection to the extent that citizens themselves are prepared to acknowledge the rights of others". Thus, a high homicide rate and violent political actions restrict the effectiveness of the right to physical integrity. The second component comprises another aspect of individual liberties, the right to free conduct of life. On the one hand, this encompasses freedom of religion and freedom of movement. On the other hand, it requires that those rights are effective and in use. The third subcomponent embraces property rights that are to be protected adequately. Again, these measures distinguish between constitutional provisions guaranteeing the free conduct of life and the effective implementation and impact of these rights.
Rule of law designates the independence, the primacy, and the absolute warrant of and by the law. This requires the same prevalence of rights as well as formal and procedural justice for all individuals. Equality before the law (component 1) is based on constitutional provisions for the impartiality of courts. Additionally, the legal framework must be independent and effectively impartial, i.e. it must not be subject to manipulation. The quality of the legal system (component 2) depends on the constitutionally provided professionalism of judges and on the legitimacy of the justice system. The justice system is not an – or at least not directly – elected constitutional body. Its legitimacy must therefore be based on the citizens' confidence in the justice system and in the institutions exercising the monopoly of legitimate force, as well as in the confidence in the police.
The principle freedom is completed by the public sphere function. Here, individual rights have an essential collective purpose. Taking part with others in expressing opinions and seeking to persuade and mobilise support are seen as important aspects of freedom. The communication about politics and moral norms takes place in the public sphere, and a vital civil society and a vivid public sphere are ensured by means of freedom of association (component 1) and freedom of opinion (component 2). Freedom of association must be constitutionally guaranteed. Additionally, according to the social capital research, a vital civil society relies on the density of associations with political and public interests. Formal social capital is seen as a sign of a well-functioning free articulation and collection of preferences. Freedom of opinion presupposes constitutional guarantees as well. In modern, representative democracies, public communication primarily takes place via mass media. Thus, media should enable a broad diffusion of political information and provide a forum for public discourse.
Vertical control of the government is established via free, regular, and competitive elections. Four components of democratic competition can be distinguished, two of which – vulnerability (component 1) and contestability (component 2) – best fit our middle-range concept of democracy and our idea of vertical control. Vulnerability corresponds to the uncertainty of the electoral outcome, which is indicated by the closeness of election results as well as the degree of concentration of parliamentary or legislative seats. Furthermore, formal rules have an impact on vulnerability: district size and the legal possibility of redistricting can influence competition. Contestability refers to the stipulations that electoral competitors have to meet in order to be allowed to enter the race. The effective competition in elections is measured by the existence and the success of small parties. Effective entry equals the total number of parties running for elections as well the ratio of parties who gain parliamentary seats.
The horizontal and institutional dimension of control of the government is encompassed by mutual constraints of constitutional powers. The balance of powers first depends on the relationship between the executive and the legislature (component 1). An effective opposition as well as constitutional provisions for mutual checks in terms of possibilities for supersession or dissolution guarantee the mutual control of the first two branches. Of course, there must be additional checks of powers (component 2). On the one hand, mutual constraints are completed by the third branch in the form of constitutional jurisdiction, i.e. the guaranteed possibility to review the constitutionality of laws. On the other hand, federalism is seen as an important means of control. In line with the research on federalism, the degrees of decentralization as well as the effective sub-national fiscal autonomy are incorporated into the measure.
One important feature of representative democracy is the chain of responsiveness. In the democratic process citizens' preferences are collected, mobilised, articulated, and aggregated by means of elections and translated into parliamentary or legislative seats. The chain has a further link, namely responsive implementation. This means that the policy decisions must be in line with the initial preferences. A responsive implementation, however, requires governmental capability, i.e. the availability of resources (component 1) and conditions for efficient implementation (component 2). Public support is one important resource for governments since they sometimes need to implement unpopular policies in order to secure the citizens' preferences in the long run. Furthermore, long terms of legislature and governmental stability facilitate a more continuous and thus more responsive implementation. Efficient implementation is more difficult when it encounters opposition from groups of citizens who use strikes, demonstrations, or even illegitimate anti-governmental action to stop it. Similarly, governmental capability is impaired if nonpolitical actors, such as the military or religious powers, are able to influence implementation. Conversely, an efficient bureaucracy can help to facilitate implementation.
Transparency is an important prerequisite for equality. On the one hand, this requires no secrecy on the part of political representatives. Political parties should thus be legally obligated to disclose their incomes and expenditures. Moreover, secrecy can lead to corruption and bribery. Corruption hinders empowered inclusion and is considered a sign of low transparency. On the other hand, provisions for a transparent political process must be considered. In this sense, the Democracy Barometer consider an effective freedom of information legislation, which guarantees that official records concerning the political process are easily accessible, to be crucial. Additionally, transparency depends on the degree to which media are allowed to cover political affairs. Hence, media must not face political control or censorship and a country's media regulation should not restrict the media and their content too strongly. Finally, the willingness of office-holders to openly communicate and justify their decisions reflects a country's general culture of transparency.
In a high-quality democracy, citizens must have equal participation rights: all persons who are affected by a political decision should have the right to participate in shaping that decision. This implies that suffrage must be universal. Furthermore, these rights should be used in an equal manner. Equal respect and consideration of all interests by the political representatives requires that participation is as widespread and as equal as possible. Therefore, equality of participation (component 1) must be considered. Of course, the effective use of participation (component 2) is important, too. Based on the idea that high turnout goes hand in hand with equal turnout, the Democracy Barometer includes the level of electoral as well as non-institutionalised participation. Additionally, the effective use of participation can be facilitated by different rules (e.g., allowing people to vote in advance).
Responsive democracy requires that all citizens' preferences are adequately represented in the political decision-making process. In representative democracies this, on the one hand, is ensured by substantive representation (component 1). High disproportionality or low issue congruence between the representatives and the represented are signs of an unequal inclusion of preferences. Conversely, structural opportunities, such as a high number of parliamentary seats or direct democratic institutions, can help to better integrate preferences into the political system. On the other hand, equal consideration of citizens' preferences is ensured by descriptive representation (component 2), especially for minorities. The access to political office for ethnic minorities must not be legally restricted by legal constraints. The Democracy Barometer also focuses on women as structural minorities. Adequate representation of all groups is necessary before a country can claim descriptive representation.