WP123: Democratizing the measurement of democratic quality: Public attitude data and the evaluation of African political regimes


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Working papers
Logan, Carolyn and Robert Mattes

Diamond and Morlino (2005) propose a quality of democracy framework that includes eight dimensions, but they suggest that only one of these – responsiveness ­­– is susceptible to measurement using public opinion data. However, we argue that citizen experiences and evaluations are essential pieces of data which may enable us to capture valid “insider” or “ground-up” measures of democratic procedures and substance that may be missed by expert judges and macro-level indicators. In this paper we develop indicators based on public attitude data for all eight dimensions of democracy. Substantively, this subjective mass opinion perspective on the Quality of Democracy gives us insight into what Africans themselves want out of democracy, and how they prioritize its various components. In general, African governments seem to be more interested in supplying – and African citizens seem to be more interested in getting – protection for rights and equality, as well as a strengthened institutional framework. Governments remain deficient in democratizing their interactions with citizens by creating mechanisms of vertical accountability and responsiveness, and citizens, quite frankly, seem considerably less interested in these goals as well. As we explore the places where citizen and expert evaluations diverge, we are drawn to the conclusion that both individual and expert assessments of the quality of democracy deserve to be carefully interrogated. What parts of Africans’ everyday experience of democracy (or lack thereof) are missed by country expert assessments? And what parts of democratic qualities (or flaws) are missed by citizens with limited access to independent sources of information about events and trends that lie beyond their immediate experience? We cannot at this point conclude that either experts or ordinary citizens provide the “true” or “correct” assessment, but rather that both perspectives are essential to fully understanding today’s democratic experience, and the shape of the democratic future, on the continent.