Explaining Democratization

The study of democracy and democratization lies at the center of political science and is increasingly important in economics, sociology, and history. In the post-Cold War world, democracy has also become a central foreign policy objective for many countries, and is often a critical condition for the distribution of international development assistance. The transition to democracy and its consolidation remains a key issue in global development today.

Yet, uncertainty persists over why some countries become and remain democratic and others do not. Despite much study, few propositions have been decisively rejected or confirmed. Additionally, the persistent uncertainty stems from a lingering data problem. No extant dataset, or set of datasets, has been sufficiently broad and sufficiently disaggregated to measure the diverse components of democracy across countries and through time.

V-Dem Research Program

The Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Research Program takes a comprehensive approach to understanding democratization. This approach encompasses multiple core principles: electoral, liberal, majoritarian, consensual, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian. Each Principle is represented by a separate index, and each is regarded as a separate outcome in the proposed study. In this manner we reconceptualize democracy from a single outcome to a set of outcomes.

In addition, we break down each core principle into its constituent components, each to be measured separately. Components include features such as free and fair elections, civil liberties, judicial independence, executive constraints, gender equality, media freedom, and civil society. Finally, each component is disaggregated into specific indicators. 

This fundamentally different approach to democratization is made possible by the V-Dem Database, which measures 450+ indicators annually from 1789 to the present for all countries of the world. 

The V-Dem approach stands out, first, as a large global collaboration among scholars with diverse areas of expertise; second, as the first project attempting to explain different varieties of democracy; and third, thanks to the highly disaggregated V-Dem data, the first project to explore causal mechanisms linking different aspects of democracy together.

Three closely interrelated and sequential projects comprise the V-Dem Research Program:

  1. Concepts and Measures of Democracy, 
  2. Endogenous Factors in Democratization, and 
  3. Factors External to Democracy. 

Project 1 is required for Projects 2 and 3, while both Project 1 and Project 2 are required for Project 3. Together, these projects will constitute the most systematic and comprehensive examination of democratization ever undertaken.