Diamond and Morlino (2004) - The Quality of Democracy

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Diamond, L. and Morlino, L. (2004): The Quality of Democracy - An Overview. In: Journal of Democracy 15 (4): 20-31


The article gives an overview of a theoretical framework to determine the quality of democracy, that is developed throughout the journal-issue. According to the authors the quality of democracy can be measured against eight dimensions from which five are more closely related to the institutional context and procedures in a given country (rule of law, participation, competition, vertical accountability, horizontal accountability) while the other three (freedom, equality, responsiveness) are viewed as core concepts to determine the “democratic product” that is closer linked to the substantive real-world-“content” of a given democratic system.


While the eight dimensions can separately be conceptualized and analyzed they are closely related to each other what implies that in the empirical world a poor quality on one dimension often goes hand in hand with deficits on others. Given the observation that a maximization of democratic quality on all eight dimensions is logically not possible the authors suggest to take the basic nature of a democratic system into account by considering its value-based decisions which aspects of democracy are particular emphasized. According to the authors these decisions shape the democratic direction of a respective system. The eight dimensions are described as followed:

  1. The rule of law as: the equality of all citizens before the law, an independent judiciary, the clearness of the laws, their publicity and transparency, their universality, stableness, and nonretroactive nature.
  2. Participation as: the granted formal rights to vote, to organize, to assemble, to protest, and to lobby, as well as soft action that ensures that these formal rights can be exercised, such as a broad diffusion of basic education and literacy.
  3. Competition as the regular, free, and fair electoral competition between different political parties, as well as their access to the mass media and campaign funding.
  4. Vertical accountability that has three main features (information, justification, and punishment) ensures that political leaders answer to their political decisions.
  5. Horizontal accountability describes the vitality of institutionalized systems of “checks & balances” such as the legislative opposition, specific investigative committees, the courts, audit agencies and others.
  6. Freedom guarantees the rights to vote, to stand for office, to campaign, and to organize political parties (political), the personal liberty, security, and privacy; freedom of thought, expression, and information; freedom of religion; freedom of assembly, association, and organization freedom of movement and residence; and the right to legal defense and due process (civil), and rights to private property and entrepreneurship, the rights associated with employment, the right to fair pay and time off, and the right to collective bargaining (social/socioeconomic).
  7. Equality is defined as the formal political and legal equality of all citizens which implies the same rights and legal protections for every citizen. Due to the fact that political equality is “virtually impossible if wealth and status inequalities become too extreme” (p. 27), “social rights” that guarantee access to certain goods like health, education, and a minimal income have to provide the required resources to fulfill equality in the real world.
  8. Responsiveness describes the state in which governments are induced by democratic processes “to make and implement policies that the citizens want” (p. 27). Responsiveness is challenged by political leaders that are trying to “shape [manipulate, B.R.] citizens’ perceptions of interest” (p. 28) in order to maximize their power and autonomy, by limited public resources, and by the globalization dynamic that transfers decision making to supranational actors.


Given the dense interaction between the dimensions, the overall quality of democracy has to be seen as an interplay between all eight dimensions. The theoretical frameworks can be deployed to compare the different qualities of democracy in different countries or to trace down the developments in a singular country e.g. to track the effects of institutional reforms on the quality of democracy.