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."
The project on the quality of democracy was initiated in 2002 at CDDRL led by Larry Diamond and Italian scholar, Leonardo Morlino (currently the incoming president of the International Political Science Association). The goal of the project was to examine in greater detail what characteristics most easily distinguish high-quality from low-quality democracies. Free and fair elections, while important, for example, in establishing the democratic process, are not, of course alone enough to establish a thriving or even merely functioning democracy. The Quality of Democracy Project has sought to establish a series of measures that helps to sort high from low performance democracies. The project has produced several working papers in the CDDRL series, and a pathbreaking book edited by Diamond and Morlino, Assessing the Quality of Democracy (published in 2005 in conjunction with the Journal of Democracy). The essays that comprise this book refine several themes of democratic quality: the rule of law, accountability, freedom, equality, and responsiveness. The volume also features six comparative cases, each of which applies these thematic elements to two neighboring countries: Brazil and Chile, South Africa and Ghana, Italy and Spain, Romania and Poland, India and Bangladesh, and Taiwan and Korea.