The Quality of Democracy

As democracy has spread over the past three decades to a majority of the world's states, analytic attention has turned increasingly from explaining regime transitions to evaluating and explaining the character of democratic regimes. Much of the democracy literature of the 1990s was concerned with the consolidation of democratic regimes. In recent years, social scientists as well as democracy practitioners and aid agencies have sought to develop means of framing and assessing the quality of democracy. This stream of theory, methodological innovation, and empirical research has three broad motives: first, that deepening democracy is a moral good, if not an imperative; second, that reforms to improve democratic quality are essential if democracy is to achieve the broad and durable legitimacy that marks consolidation; and third, that long-established democracies must also reform if they are to attend to their own gathering problems of public dissatisfaction and even disillusionment. In fact, these latter trends, the broad decline of public confidence in governmental and political institutions, the growing citizen alienation from political parties in particular, and the widespread perceptions that democratic governments and politicians are increasingly corrupt, self-interested and unresponsive are common to many democracies, new and old, and have even led prominent researchers to speak of a "crisis of democracy."