Political Science Empirical Indicators of Democracy and Authoritarianism
Matthew Wilson, Sanghoon Park
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0348


Developing measures for empirical description and analysis entails several crucial interrelated tasks. The first task is to establish, in concrete terms, the idea or concept to be measured. The second is to consider the most accurate way to measure the concept. After collecting data and creating the measure, another important task is to evaluate the consistency and reliability of the measure. In political science, the study of democracy and autocracy and how they differ constitutes a major area of research. This bibliography covers works that contribute to the development of empirical indicators of democracy and authoritarianism through their focus on the topics of conceptualization, measurement, and validity and reliability.

General Overviews

Each of these readings offers a valuable overview with regard to conceptualization and measurement of democracy and authoritarianism. Dahl, et al. 2003 includes theoretical perspectives on the notion of democracy and touches on different areas of study in the research on democracy. Coppedge 2012 surveys the state of research on democratization, with chapters on measurement and methodology and how they inform conclusions on democratization research. Geddes 1999 summarizes findings and conclusions of research on democratization over the previous twenty years. Frantz and Ezrow 2011 and Art 2012 both survey research on nondemocracy. Hyde and Saunders 2020 discusses research agendas on democracy and autocracy in international relations.

  • Art, David. “What Do We Know About Authoritarianism After Ten Years?” Comparative Politics 44.3 (2012): 351–373.

    DOI: 10.5129/001041512800078977

    Reviews existing work on authoritarian regimes, underscoring the “institutional turn” in the study of authoritarianism.

  • Coppedge, Michael. Democratization and Research Methods. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139016179

    An overview of research on democratization that evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of various methodological approaches. Discusses how the conceptualization and measurement of democracy informs conclusions.

  • Dahl, Robert A., Ian Shapiro, and José Antonio Cheibub. The Democracy Sourcebook. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.

    Combines excerpts from classical political theorists and research by notable scholars on the topics of defining democracy and its sources, important elements, and its relationships to major outcomes.

  • Frantz, Erica, and Natasha Ezrow. The Politics of Dictatorship: Institutions and Outcomes in Authoritarian Regimes. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2011.

    Synthesizes the literature on autocratic rule, with a focus on categories of dictatorship. Examines the relationship of authoritarianism with various outcomes.

  • Geddes, Barbara. “What Do We Know About Democratization After Twenty Years?” Annual Review of Political Science 2 (1999): 115–144.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.2.1.115

    Summarizes research on democratization, emphasizing differences in transitions related to the factions involved.

  • Hyde, Susan D., and Elizabeth N. Saunders. “Recapturing Regime Type in International Relations: Leaders, Institutions, and Agency Space.” International Organization 74.2 (2020): 1–33.

    Reviews several books on international relations that touch on differences between democracies and autocracies, concluding that regime type remains a crucial concept.

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