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From Maastricht to Brexit by Richard Bellamy and Dario Castiglione

Is Democracy losing Ground? Causes and Consequences of Democratization Revisited

Comparative Politics
Section Number
Section Chair
Anna Lührmann
University of Gothenburg
Section Co-Chair
Svend-Erik Skaaning
Aarhus Universitet

After the end of the third wave of democratization, debates about the state and future of democracy have become increasingly gloomy (Diamond & Plattner 2015 ed.). According to some overviews, the world has experienced declining levels of democracy since 2006 (Freedom House 2015), while other democracy measures merely identify a general standstill (Levitsky & Way 2015).

Despite these disagreements, it is evident that the rapid spread of democratic regimes during the 1990s came to a halt in the 2000s. Many regimes remain in the hybrid zone between liberal democracy and stable autocracy. Several authoritarian regimes have remained stable during recent decades and have used their geostrategic power to prevent further spread of democracy (von Soest 2015). The recent failures of the Arab Spring movements illustrate that establishing stable, high-quality democracies is easier said than done. Tellingly, even the old democracies in the Western world also face significant problems such as declining rates in political participation and satisfaction.
Also the merits of democratization are challenged. Scholars point to political instability during democratization process or after elections (Collier 2009) or argue that states need to be ripe before democratization processes can bear fruits in terms of delivering security, growth, and human development. Accordingly, democracy aid is increasingly met with criticism in donor countries and resistance in developing countries (Carothers 2015).

Against this backdrop, research on causes and consequences of democratization is pertinent as ever before. Yet, lacking data availability has long limited scope and precision of comparative research in this field. As from December 2015, the new data from the Varieties of Democracy Project will be publicly available. The V-Dem dataset includes 400 distinct and precise indicators of democracy. It covers 174 countries and dependent territories from 1900 to 2012 and provides an estimate of measurement reliability for each rating. Thus, the V-Dem data offer unique opportunities to pursue new research agendas or revisit old ones in new ways.

In order to fruitfully address current debates about the causes and consequences of democratization, this Section welcomes a broad-range of Panel proposals. Particularly welcome are Panels and Papers using V-Dem data, but also other data sources as well as more theoretical or case-oriented contributions. The Section calls for four Panels addressing the following main areas:
- Democracy in Decline?
According to some scholars and pundits democracy is in decline, whereas others challenge this view and emphasize the progress made compared to the 1980s (see above and Diamond & Plattner 2015 ed.). This Panel welcomes Papers that use new data sources to describe and explain historical and recent trends in democratic development.

- Democratization and Civil Conflict
Civil conflicts tend to be more pronounced in hybrid regimes and in countries experiencing elections and political openings (Hegre et al. 2001), but studies with a disaggregate perspective on the regime-conflict nexus are lacking. This Panel welcomes Papers that investigate why democratization is often associated with political violence and what kind of political institutional changes and set-ups are particular prone to either spur or prevent civil conflict.

- Democracy Aid: Impact and Challenges
Governments spent billions of dollars on democracy assistance across the world. Yet, we know little about in which political contexts such funds are well spent. Qualitative research has shown that several contextual factors shape the impact of democracy aid on democratization. Existing large-N studies tend to investigate average effects of democracy aid, but do not specify contextual conditions for the effectiveness of democracy aid (e.g. Finkel et al 2007). This Panel welcomes Papers investigating context-specific challenges to democracy aid and its impact.

- Democracy, Growth, and Human Development
The performance of non-democratic countries such as China prompts questions about the virtues of democratization for development outcomes such as economic growth, health, and education. Prior comparative research has provided inconclusive and even contradictory findings (e.g. Knutsen 2012). However, it seems plausible that various components of democracy are related to growth and human development in different ways. This Panel welcomes Papers that shed new light on how particular characteristics of political regimes affect economic and social performance.

Carothers, T. (2015). Democracy Aid at 25: Time to Choose. Journal Of Democracy, 26(1), 59–73.
Collier, P. (2009). Wars, guns, and votes: Democracy in dangerous places. New York, NY: Harper.
Diamond, L. & Plattner, M. (2015 ed.). Democracy in Decline? National Endowment for Democracy.
Finkel, S. E., Pérez-Liñán, A., & Seligson, M. A. (2007). The Effects of U.S. Foreign Assistance on Democracy Building, 1990-2003. World Politics, 59(03), 404–439.
Freedom House (2015). Freedom in the World 2015.
Hegre, H. (2001). Toward A Democratic Civil Peace? American Political Science Review, 95(1), 16–33.
Knutsen, C.H. (2012). Democracy and Economic Growth. International Area Studies Review, 15(4), 393–415.
Levitsky, S., & Way, L. (2015). The Myth of Democratic Recession. Journal Of Democracy, 26(1), 45–58.
Von Soest, C. (2015). Democracy Prevention: The International Collaboration of Auhoritarian Regimes. European Journal of Political Research, 54(4), 623–638.

Section Chair:
Anna Lührmann ( is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg. Her doctoral thesis – completed in summer 2015 at Humboldt University (Berlin) - studies the causes and effects of United Nation’s electoral assistance. From 2002- 2009 she was a Member of the German National Parliament (Bundestag).

Section Co-Chair:
Svend-Erik Skaaning ( is professor of political science at Aarhus University and co-principal investigator of the Varieties of Democracy project. His research interests include the measurement and explanation of democracy. He has published numerous articles in journals such as Perspectives on Politics, Comparative Political Studies, Journal of Democracy, and Democratization. Among his recent books are The Rule of Law (Palgrave) and Democracy and Democratization in Comparative Perspective (Routledge).

Panel List

Code Title Details
P083Democracy = Stability, Prosperity, and Satisfaction? View Panel Details
P084Democracy Aid: Impact and Challenges View Panel Details
P167Highs and Lows in Recent Democratization Trajectories View Panel Details
P258New Insights on Democratization and Authoritarian Stability with V-Dem Data View Panel Details
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