Measuring Democracy in Mexico. Merits and Demerits of the Freedom House Index and Przeworski’s Regime Classification

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2011 9 Pages

Politics - Methods, Research


Table of Contents


Freedom House vs. Przeworski

Democracy in Mexico





This paper applies and discusses the merits and demerits of two different measures of democracy, the Freedom House Index and Przeworski’s regime classification, that is, the updated version by Cheibub et al. (2010)[1], with regard to Mexico between 1972 and 2010.

First, I will explain the nature and functionality of the two measures, and then I will look at the development of democracy in Mexico and its evaluation by Przeworski and Freedom House, pointing out similarities and differences and their causes. Finally I will conclude which of the two measures seems to be more appropriate for the specific case of Mexico and why.

Freedom House vs. Przeworski

Freedom House measures freedom by the means of two categories: political rights, meaning that citizens can “participate freely in the political process” (Freedom House, 2011d), have different options to choose from in elections, etc. and civil liberties, defined by “freedom of expression […], associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy” (Freedom House, 2011d).

A country is assigned a score on a continuous scale from 1 (highest level of freedom) to 7 (lowest level of freedom) for each of the categories. Based on a country’s average score on this scale, it is then assigned to one of three categories: free (1 to 2.5), partly free (3 to 5), or not free (5.5 to 7). In addition to this trichotomous aspect Freedom House uses a dichotomous measure to determine whether a country is an electoral democracy or not. In order to be classified as an electoral democracy, a country has to fulfil four criteria about the political system and voting procedure (specified below), obtain a score of at least 7 out of 12 in the 3 questions on the electoral process in the political rights questionnaire and have an overall political rights score of at least 20 (Freedom House, 2011d).

Przeworski uses a dichotomous measure (democracy or dictatorship) based on four criteria: there have to be an elected chief executive and legislature, multiple parties in the legislature and alternation in government, meaning the governing party or coalition cannot win three elections in a row (Bogaards, 2007).

Democracy in Mexico

Mexico became independent from Spain in 1810 and a republic in 1822. In 1917 a new constitution was adapted, declaring Mexico a federal republic with an elected president and legislature, like it is today. However, since 1929 the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has ruled the country in an authoritarian manner by “co-optation, patronage, corruption and repression” (Freedom House, 2002) and there has been little transparency about the government’s business (Freedom House, 2002).

Hence, for the time between 1972 and 1999 Przeworski classified Mexico as a dictatorship, with the side note that the sole reason for this was that there had been no alternation in government under the same electoral rules during that time (Przeworski et al., 2010), since election rules were changed prior to the first alternation (Cheibub, Gandhi, & Vreeland, 2009). Freedom House did not classify Mexico as an electoral democracy either[2] and rated it as partly free, with the average score fluctuating between 3.5 and 4, during this period (Freedom House, 2011b; Freedom House, 2011c).

First improvements of the situation started to appear in 1996, when an agreement between the major political parties implemented electoral reforms that included the abolition of government control over the Federal Electoral Institute (Cheibub et al., 2009). Consequently, Freedom House raised Mexico’s political rights score from 4 to 3 for 1997, when different elections were held (Freedom House, 2002; Freedom House, 2011c).

However, it was not until 2000 that an actual change in government occurred. In this year the candidate of the oppositional National Action Party (PAN), Vicente Fox, won the elections threatening the PRI’s dominant position. In the Mexican congress, for the first time, no party held a majority (Freedom House, 2002).

Mexico was classified as a democracy by Przeworski for the first time in this year (Przeworski et al., 2010) and Freedom House, too, qualified it as an electoral democracy and upgraded it to free with an average score of 2.5 (Freedom House, 2011b; Freedom House, 2011c).

In 2002, Freedom House upgraded Mexico’s civil liberties score even further from 3 to 2, “due to improvements in the fight against drug-related corruption and narcotics cartels, including the […] imprisonment of a number of major narcotics traffickers” (Freedom House, 2003). This was, however, reversed in 2006, when violence against journalists, who had increasingly reported on “police issues, narcotics trafficking, and public corruption”, escalated (Freedom House, 2007).


[1] All references to “Przeworski” in this paper refer to the updated version by Cheibub et al. (2010).

[2] It has to be noted that Freedom House only started its registration of electoral democracies in 1989. However Mexico did not appear in their list until 2000 and its status of freedom was not higher before 1989 (Freedom House, 2011b; Freedom House, 2011c).


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measuring democracy mexico merits demerits freedom house index przeworski’s regime classification



Title: Measuring Democracy in Mexico. Merits and Demerits of the Freedom House Index and Przeworski’s Regime Classification