Measures of Democratization: From Degree to Type to War

By Bogaards, Matthijs | Political Research Quarterly, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Measures of Democratization: From Degree to Type to War


Bogaards, Matthijs, Political Research Quarterly


The global spread of democracy has not resulted in scholarly consensus on how to conceptualize and measure democratization. The recent proliferation of hybrid regimes has encouraged attempts to empirically capture these new categories with the help of existing measures of democracy, raising the question of how one can go from degree to type. This issue has gained in salience because of the claim that incomplete democratic transitions, stopping halfway between dictatorship and democracy, increase the chance of war. This article presents a first overview of the different ways in which democratization has been defined and measured. In addition, it shows how scholars have used Freedom House and Polity scores to build regime typologies. A reexamination of the results of Mansfield and Snyder's thesis about democratization and war shows the importance of operationalization and casts further doubt on the empirical robustness of their claims.

Keywords: democratization; hybrid regimes; measurement; war

It is common to talk about a "third wave of democratization" to denote the global spread of democracy in the past three decades, and there is by now a substantial literature on democratic transitions. However, the question of how to operationalize the concept of "regime change" has not received much attention. This is all the more surprising in light of the renewed interest in measuring democracy. This article presents a first overview of the different ways in which political scientists have operationalized "democratization" and "democratic transition" with the help of publicly available databases.

Broadly speaking, there are two ways in which regime change is captured. First, this can be done through a change of scores on a scale or index of democracy. Such a change is defined by magnitude and direction. Second, it can be accomplished through a change of categories. These categories can come directly from categorical coding schemes or can be derived indirectly from scores. The literature on democratization has employed a variety of operationalizations. Of special interest are recent attempts to capture the grey zone between dictatorship and democracy through intermediate categories. While these categories have received attention in the conceptual literature on so-called diminished subtypes (Collier and Levitsky 1997; Goertz 2006), their operationalization has not been reviewed systematically, even though many of these regime typologies rely on data from the same databases that are commonly used for measuring democracy and democratization.

The second part of the article presents a test of the possible effect of different operationalizations and classifications through a reexamination of the relation between democratization and war. This is a topic on the intersection of international relations and comparative politics (Cederman, Hug, and Wenger 2008). In a series of publications, Mansfield and Snyder (1995a, 1995b, 1996, 2002a, 2002b, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009) claim to have established a relationship between incomplete democratic transitions and war.1 Is this result robust to different operationalizations of regime change? The findings provide further evidence that the theory suffers from a lack of positive cases (Narang and Nelson 2009).

Concepts and Measures of Democratization

The first publication to systematically track the recent spread of democracy was Huntington (1991). This popular book has made a lasting contribution with- some would say because of (Zimmerling 2003)-his metaphor of "the third wave." As Kurzman (1998) shows, the notion of "a wave of democratization" can refer to three phenomena: (1) an increase in the level of democracy worldwide, (2) the number of transitions to democracy being higher than the number of authoritarian regressions in a particular period, or (3) a pattern of linkages between transitions.

Likewise, democratization has multiple meanings. In the broadest sense, democratization refers to any change in the direction of more democracy, no matter how small. …

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