Conceptualization and Measurement of Democracy (CMD)

Led by Håvard Hegre
Jan 2012 – Dec 2014

The project aims to contribute to our understanding of democracy as a concept, and to the measurement of democracy and its sub-components. It also investigates how democracy affects economic growth, inequality, conflict, and the stability of political institutions and regimes.

About the project

The project started up in 2011 and runs up to 2014. The project focuses on the conceptualization and measurement of democracy and its sub-components, and on the effects of democracy on economic growth, inequality, conflict and political stability. A short summary of project follows below. More details about the research are found at

Neither theoretical nor empirical studies have sufficiently taken into account democracy's multi-dimensionality, and previous studies on democracy's effects have mostly relied on problematic aggregate measures. This project attempts to theoretically rephrase and empirically reanalyze research questions concerning the relationship between components of democracy on the one hand and growth, inequality, peace, and stability of political institutions on the other by using specific, relevant indicators and the project's novel aggregated indices of democracy.


Neither theoretical nor empirical studies have sufficiently taken into account democracy's multi-dimensionality, and previous studies on democracy's effects have mostly relied on problematic aggregate measures. This project's objective is to (re-)assess how democracy affects four important variables; namely economic growth, conflict, inequality, and the stability and consolidation of democratic institutions by using data on detailed indicators of political institutions as well as new indices of democracy. In this regard, another objective of the project is to contribute to the literatures on how to conceptualize democracy, and to the literature on how to validly measure democracy, democracy's sub-components, and more specific institutional structures.


Conceptualization, data collection, and measurement

The project will compile and supplement existing indicators of democracy and review how indicators theoretically relate to various conceptualizations of democracy. Moreover the project will develop a set of formulae for aggregation of indicators into indices of democracy, and empirically analyze their validity.

The project will address these points by specifying in detail the salient sub-components/indicators of various conceptualizations of democracy, identify aggregation procedures, and explore the validity of new proposed aggregate measures. The project will also review existing aggregate democracy measures, and examine their validity based on the conceptual work and discussions and utilization of proper aggregation methods.

The set of indicators will be broad in order to allow for the construction of aggregates based on a range of conceptualizations. The project includes a considerable data collection effort, both to expand data coverage on existing indicators and to collect data on new indicators.

The effects of democracy on growth, conflict, inequality, and political stability

The project will use both disaggregated indicators and the new aggregate measures to reanalyze questions on how democracy affects economic growth, inequality, conflict and stability. More precise specifications of which institutional components of democracy are salient for an outcome will help developing and applying more precise theoretical arguments and allow for better empirical tests.

Economic growth: The literature on democracy's effect on economic growth mostly employs aggregate democracy measures, and empirical studies differ considerably regarding the net effect. However, some relatively recent contributions point to the likely importance of more particular aspects of democracy, like freedom of speech and political participation rights, for growth-enhancing policies. The project will focus on investigating such more disaggregated effects.

Conflict: Studies of democracy and interstate conflict show a clear relationship between democracy and peace. For internal conflict the relationship is less clear, but likely curvi-linear. Moreover, exactly which combinations of democratic and non-democratic components that increase conflict risk is unclear, as most studies use the highly aggregated Polity index of democracy. A more detailed exploration of the effects of democracy's sub-components on conflict risk will be pursued in this project.

Inequality: The empirical literature finds no clear and robust effect of democratic institutions on income inequality. Statistical studies on the topic tend to mainly use aggregate indices of democracy. Moreover, these studies tend to focus exclusively on vertical (inter-individual) inequality. Yet, horizontal inequalities, i.e. systematic inequalities between ethnic-, religious- or geographical groups, may be more important in several regards. The project will elaborate on the effects of democracy on horizontal inequality, and how institutional factors affect the linkages between horizontal inequality and conflict.

Stability: Several studies indicate that democracies are more stable than autocracies, at least in high-income countries. But, these studies tend to use minimalist definitions of democracy. Some studies have pointed to the importance of consistency across sub-components of political regimes. Moreover, more detailed constitutional components, like constitutional amendment procedures, may affect institutional stability. The project aims at investigating the importance of such more nuanced institutional and regime characterstics for stability.


Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Strand, Håvard (2011) Deconstructing Civil War: A Rejoinder, Security Dialogue 42(3): 297–302.