Freedom House is a Washington-based non-governmental organisation established in 1941 to promote democracy around the globe. The organisation has since 1973 published the Comparative Survey of Freedom, which rates the level of democracy or freedom in all independent states and some disputed and dependent territories. Freedom House also conducts annual surveys on global media freedom, European and Eurasian nations in transition towards democracy, in-depth analyses of selected countries believed to be at a crossroad of their political development, as well as special reports focusing on particular fields or territories of interest.
- Freedom in the World Yearly publication which measures freedom in countries and territories according to two broad categories political rights and civil liberties.
- Freedom of the Press Yearly publication which measures media freedom in countries and territories.
- Nations in Transit A comparative, multidimensional study measuring progress and setbacks in democratisation in 29 countries from central Europe to the Eurasian region of the former Soviet Union.
Freedom in the World
On-screen tables, HTML, PDF, Excel
Data types and sources
Expert coding conducted by in-house analysts as well as outside consultant analysts. The analysts uses a broad range of sources of information, including foreign and domestic news reports, academic analyses, non-governmental organisations, think tanks, individual professional contacts, and visits to the regions, in preparing the reports (Freedom House, 2009).
The intentions of the Freedom of the World survey is to provide an annual evaluation of the state of global freedom as experienced by individuals. The survey measures freedom according to two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. The results of the survey are presented in a dataset that contains three main variables: an index of the level of political rights, an index of civil liberties, and the Freedom House Index (FHI), which is the average of the other two indices. In addition to these numerical ratings the survey also includes analytical reports for every country. The FHI is frequently used as a measure of democracy. Since 2006 every edition of Freedom in the World also includes data for the component variables used to construct the political rights and civil liberties indices.
The 2011 edition of the Freedom in the World covers 204 countries (present and historical) and disputed territories.
Time coverage and updates
Years covered: 1972 to present. Updated annually.
The methodology of the survey is described in the online edition of Freedom in the World. See also Gastil (1991) for a general presentation of the FHI. The index has been criticised for not listing the sources and explaining the coding rules in sufficient detail. But an improvement since the 2006 edition is that scores on the component variables are now made publicly available. Footnotes on particular circumstances are included in the downloaded files.
Access conditions and cost
Available free of charge.
Predefined tables. The site provides PDF, XLS and HTML versions of the ratings, both for Independent Countries and for Related and Disputed Territories. On the site the user is also offered a visual presentation (map) of the scores along with a report for each country and territory.
On-screen tables, HTML, PDF, XLS.
Comparability and data quality
The survey has grown in size and scope since its beginning in 1973, and the 2011 edition is among the most extensive in its history. The measuring of freedom is based on conceptualization of political rights and civil liberties. The concepts are “…derived in large measure from relevant portions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (Freedom House, 2009), and based on several “checklist questions” and guidelines, the panel of experts assigns numerical ratings to each country. Through this method the survey tries to emphasize objectivity and balanced and unbiased judgements, but there will always be an element of subjectivity inherent in these kinds of expert assessments. During its existence, modest changes have been made regarding methodological issues, in an attempt to adapt to evolving ideas about political rights and civil liberties. At the same time, time-series data are not revised retroactively, which means that index scores are not necessarily comparable over time.
Pre-2006 versions of the FHI recieved much criticism due to the lack of information about the different components and sub-categories of the index. But recent editions have started to publish sub-category scores, which now makes the FHI more capable of differentiating the ratings among countries. For analytical purposes this is an improvement, not least with regard to for example European consolidated democracies, that often are given the same overall score on the index. Since a majority of these countries are comparatively stable democracies, providing extensive political rights and civil liberties for their citizens, the score for countries in the region differed little in the original measures of the Freedom House Index. The score on each sub-category, however, allows for more detailed studies of the political situation in European countries.
Moreover, Freedom House has been criticised by several scholars with regards to conceptualisation, measurement and aggregation. See Munck and Verkuilen (2002) and chapter 5 in Rydland et al. (2008) for a general discussion of democracy indices.
Becker, John. 2003. “Keeping track of press freedom”. European Journal of Communication 18 (1):107-112.
Becker, Lee B., Tudor Vlad and Nancy Nusser. 2007. “An evaluation of press freedomindicators”. International Communication Gazette 69 (1): 5-28.
Gastil, Raymond Duncan. 1991. “The Comparative Survey of Freedom: experiences and suggestions”. In On Measuring Democracy: Its Consequences and Concomitants, ed. Alex Inkles. NewBrunswick and London: Transaction.
Munck, Gerardo L., and Jay Verkuilen. 2002. “Conceptualizing and measuring democracy:evaluating alternative indices”. Comparative Political Studies 35 (February): 5-34.
Rydland, Lars Tore, Sveinung Arnesen and Åse Gilje Østensen. 2008. Contextual data for the European Social Survey. An Overview and assessment of extant resources. NSD Report No.124, Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD).