Grassroots Democracy and the Task of Measurement: A Critical Assessment of Democracy Indices

Elszasz, Hayley, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Kruks-Wisner, Gabrielle, AS-Dept of Politics, University of Virginia

Democracy is a contested and consequential term in political science. The location of a state on the spectrum between democratic and autocratic, as decreed by the political scientist or policymaker, has tangible import. However, aside from more technical methodological critiques of individual democracy indices and critiques of the overall project from the interpretivist side of academic political science, there has not been wholesale inquiry into the function these scores play in our social and political world -- a function that I argue is far from negligible. While there are many potential angles from which to take issue with democracy scoring, my critique is that these scores systematically downplay democratic potentials housed in “developing” contexts in the “Global South.” This work arises from the hypothesis that democracy indicators under-value -- or ignore altogether -- the democratic role of populations (specifically, in voting, demonstrating, and protesting), while privileging the actions of the state (how the state reacts to elections and demonstrations). Together, this privileging of state action when determining which states are “democratic” serves to disadvantage states with weaker or more flexible institutions, and where grassroots politics is important as a site of deliberation.

MA (Master of Arts)
democracy, comparative politics, grassroots politics
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: