Open data and (15 million!) new measures of democracy

Joshua Tucker in the Washington Post: “Last month the University of Gothenberg’s V-Dem Institute released a new“Varieties of Democracy” dataset. It provides about 15 million data points on democracy, including 39 democracy-related indices. It can be accessed at along with supporting documentation. I asked Staffan I. Lindberg, Director of the V-Dem Institute and one of the directors of the project, a few questions about the new data. What follows is a lightly edited version of his answers.

Women’s Political Empowerment Index for Southeast Asia (Data: V-Dem data version 5; Figure V-Dem Institute, University of Gothenberg, Sweden)

Joshua Tucker: What is democracy, and is it even really to have quantitative measures on democracy?

Staffan Lindberg: There is no consensus on the definition of democracy and how to measure it. The understanding of what a democracy really is varies across countries and regions. This motivates the V-Dem approach not to offer one standard definition of the concept but instead to distinguish among five principles different versions of democracy: Electoral, Liberal, Participatory, Deliberative, and Egalitarian democracy. All of these principles have played prominent roles in current and historical discussions about democracy. Our measurement of these principles are based on two types of data, factual data collected by assisting researchers and survey responses by country experts, which are combined using a rather complex measurement model (which is a“custom-designed Bayesian ordinal item response theory model”, for details see the V-Dem Methodology document)….(More)

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