What makes liberal democracy flourish?

What makes liberal democracy flourish? In this paper, my purposes are (1) to outline potential ingredients that make a liberal democracy flourish; (2) to highlight gaps in knowledge and explore the datasets collected.

Literature review
There is no consensus on what liberal democracy is. Liberal democracy is defined by Bollen as the extent to which a political system allows political liberties and democratic rule.

Fukuyama defines a successful modern liberal democracy as combining three sets of institutions in a stable balance. The three categories of institutions that Fukuyama looks at are a strong state, the rule of law and accountable government.

Zakaria defines liberal democracy as a political system marked by free and fair elections, the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property.

Zakaria notes that the latter bundle of freedoms, which are often associated with liberalism, are theoretically and historically divergent from democracy.

Mounk defines liberal democracy as a unique mix of individual rights and popular rule that has long characterized most governments in North America and Western Europe. Mounk emphasizes that liberalism and democracy make a cohesive whole.

Schamis et. al postulate that democracy as we know it and debate it, is liberal democracy — which is a system based on a series of institutional arrangements conducive to the creation and preservations of representative government.

Prominent among those arrangements is the notion of separation of powers, along with the constitutional mechanisms that specify, regulate, and reproduce that principle.

The uniqueness of democracy lies in the idea that the rights of citizens are best protected by a constitutional state whose power is limited — that is, legally circumscribed and divided.

There is no consensus on how to measure democracy either. At present, the best-known measure is produced by the US-based Freedom House organization.

The annual Freedom in the World is a global report on political rights and civil liberties is composed of numerical ratings and descriptive texts for each country and a selected group of territories.

This report operates from the assumption that freedom for all people is best achieved in liberal democratic societies. The Freedom in the World report evaluates the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) democracy index is based on the philosophy that measures of democracy that reflect the state of political freedoms and civil liberties are not sufficient — and do not fully encompass some features that determine how substantive democracy is.

The EIU notes that existing measures of democracy only consider elements of political participation and functioning of government in a marginal way. The EIU’s democracy index is based on five categories: electoral process; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.

The Varieties of Democracy Project (V-Dem) has a more innovative and user friendly approach to measuring democracy. Five features distinguish V-Dem from previous endeavors to measure democracy. Because no consensus exists on how to conceptualize and measure democracy, V-Dem approaches democracy as multidimensional.

Instead of imposing a definition that would omit features of democracy that matter to some users, V-Dem quantifies multiple varieties of democracy and allows users to choose based on their understanding of the concept.

V-Dem collects information on indicators relevant to democracy at a highly disaggregated level and makes both aggregated and disaggregated data freely available. V-Dem employs multiple experts to code each subjective indicator, permitting intercoder reliability tests.

Fears about data quality when measuring democracy are prevalent among scholars and policymakers. Herrera et. al postulate that Freedom House democracy ratings are riddled with bias.

Bush postulates that when the Freedom in The World (FITW) ratings were created, the methods Freedom House used were neither particularly transparent nor systematic.

Bush notes the FITW ratings favor countries that are aligned with the United States. This complicates researchers’ ability to use them to make inferences about democratization.

Coppedge et. al note that there is no consensus about how to conceptualize and measure regimes. This means that it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons through time and across countries.

Without some way of analyzing regime types through time and across countries, scholars have no way to make progress on this vital matter, to explain it, to reveal its consequences, or to affect its future course.

Bollen identifies the main conceptual problems that arise when defining and measuring democracy. He notes the failure to develop an adequate theoretical definition of the concept — as well as the confounding of the concept with others, and treating democracy as a binary rather than a continuous concept — are all conceptual problems.

Knutsen discusses methodological problems related to operationalizing substantive definitions of democracy. Specifically, he argues that index-constructors need to be particularly conscious of measurement level issues — or they risk of facing severe reliability and validity problems — which has the potential of biasing empirical analyses utilizing the indexes.

What makes a successful liberal democracy is also a topic of debate. Lipset argued that the more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy.

He finds that the average wealth, degree of industrialization and urbanization, and level of education is much higher for the more democratic countries.

Lipset’s analysis has been criticized on several conceptual and methodological grounds. According to Diamond, Lipset shows the correlation of democracy with a wide range of development variables — yet it does not present a truly multivariate analysis in which the independent causal weight or correlational significance of each variable is established by controlling for the other variables.

Barro argues that the data for a large panel of countries confirm the Lipset/Aristotle hypothesis — which says that a higher standard of living in a country yields democracy.

This correlation is omnipresent when democracy is represented by electoral rights or civil liberties and when the standard of living is measured by per capita GDP, primary school attainment, the gap between male and female primary schooling, and the importance of the middle class.

Numerous studies operate with diverse model specifications, samples and empirical measures — and they suggest different economic, social, cultural, demographic, institutional and international determinants of democracy.

Rød et al. distinguish between democratization and democratic survival and test the sensitivities of 67 proposed determinants by varying the control variable set, democracy measure, and sample time.

The results yield a far larger number of robust determinants of democratization than of democratic survival. For democratic survival, the only robust factors are income and a law-abiding bureaucracy.

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Bollen, Kenneth. “Liberal democracy: Validity and method factors in cross-national measures.” American Journal of Political Science (1993): 1207–1230.

Bollen, Kenneth A. “Political democracy: Conceptual and measurement traps.” Studies in comparative international development 25, no. 1 (1990): 7–24.

Barro, Robert J. “Determinants of democracy.” Journal of Political economy 107, no. S6 (1999): S158-S183.

Bush, Sarah Sunn. “The politics of rating freedom: Ideological affinity, private authority, and the Freedom in the World ratings.” Perspectives on Politics 15, no. 3 (2017): 711–731.

Coppedge, Michael, John Gerring, David Altman, Michael Bernhard, Steven Fish, Allen Hicken, Matthew Kroenig et al. “Conceptualizing and measuring democracy: A new approach.” Perspectives on Politics 9, no. 2
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Diamond, Larry. “Economic development and democracy reconsidered.” American behavioral scientist 35, no. 4–5
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“Freedom in the World 2021 Methodology.” Freedom House. Freedom House, n.d.
https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/2021- 02/FreedomInTheWorld_2021_Methodology_Checklist_of_Questions.pdf.

Fukuyama, Francis. The origins of political order: From prehuman times to the French Revolution.

Herrera, Yoshiko M., and Devesh Kapur. “Improving data quality: actors, incentives, and capabilities.” Political Analysis15, no. 4 (2007): 365–386.

Kekic, Laza. “The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of democracy.” The Economist 21 (2007): 1–11.

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Lindberg, Staffan I., Michael Coppedge, John Gerring, and Jan Teorell. “V-Dem: A new way to measure democracy.” Journal of Democracy 25, no. 3 (2014): 159–169.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. “Some social requisites of democracy: Economic development and political legitimacy.” American political science review 53, no. 1 (1959): 69–105.

Mounk, Yascha. The people vs. democracy. Harvard University Press, 2018.

Rød, E.G., Knutsen, C.H. & Hegre, H. The determinants of democracy: a sensitivity analysis. Public Choice 185, 87–111 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-019-00742-z

Zakaria, Fareed. “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy.” Foreign Affairs 76, no. 6 (1997): 22–43. https://doi.org/10.2307/20048274.



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