Frequently Asked Questions | Freedom House

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Freedom in the World?

Freedom in the World is an annual global report on political rights and civil liberties. It has been produced since 1973. The report is composed of numerical ratings and descriptive texts for 195 countries and 14 territories. Countries and territories are assessed by external analysts, primarily using in-country contacts, field research, nongovernmental and government reports, news articles, and other open-source information. The analysts’ conclusions are then vetted by teams of expert advisers. The final product represents the consensus of the analysts, Freedom House staff, and the outside advisers.

What is the report’s coverage period?

Freedom in the World 2018 covers the period from January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017. Each annual edition of Freedom in the World assesses conditions and events in the previous calendar year. In the past, the coverage period shifted slightly on a few occasions, for example covering the last two months of one calendar year and the first 10 months of the next.

How far back in time does Freedom in the World go?

The first edition covered the year 1972.

Where can I view all the past years’ ratings?

The historical data are available in Excel format on the Freedom in the World landing page.

How does the rating system work?

Freedom in the World uses a three-tier rating system, consisting of scores, ratings, and statuses. At the score level, a country/territory is awarded 0 to 4 points on each of 25 indicators, for a maximum total of 100 points. These indicators, which take the form of questions, are grouped into the categories of Political Rights and Civil Liberties. A country/territory is assigned a rating (7 to 1) for each of these two categories based on its scores. (Click here for the score ranges associated with each rating level.) The average of a country/territory’s Political Rights and Civil Liberties ratings is called the Freedom Rating, and it is this figure that determines the country/territory’s status of Free (1.0 to 2.5), Partly Free (3.0 to 5.0), or Not Free (5.5 to 7.0).

See the Methodology document for a more complete explanation of this system.

What topics do the scores cover?

The following is an overview of the 7 main topics covered by Freedom in the World. More detailed information can be found in the Methodology document.

  1. Electoral Process: executive and legislative elections, and electoral framework
  2. Political Pluralism and Participation: party system, competition, and minority voting rights
  3. Functioning of Government: corruption, transparency, and ability of elected officials to govern in practice
  4. Freedom of Expression and Belief: media, religious freedom, academic freedom, and free private discussion
  5. Associational and Organizational Rights: free assembly, civic groups, and labor unions
  6. Rule of Law: independent judges and prosecutors, due process, crime and disorder, and legal equality
  7. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: freedom of movement, property rights, women’s and family rights, and freedom from economic exploitation

What is the best score a country or territory can get?

The optimal result at the score level—the bottom tier of the rating system—is 100, meaning the country/territory received 4 points on all 25 indicators, for a total of 40 in the Political Rights category and 60 in the Civil Liberties category. These scores would lead to a Freedom Rating of 1.0, and a status of Free.

What is the worst score a country/territory can get?

The worst possible result at the score level is -4. To achieve this, a country/territory would need to receive a 0 for all 25 of the normal indicators, as well as a -4 on an optional indicator that subtracts points from the Political Rights total in cases of “ethnic cleansing” campaigns. Such abysmal scores would lead to a Freedom Rating of 7.0, and a status of Not Free.

Where can I view all the past years’ scores?

All publicly available data can be viewed in Excel format on the Freedom in the World landing page. This includes ratings and status designations going back to the 1973 edition, total Political Rights and Civil Liberties scores back to 2004, total subcategory (A through G) scores back to 2007, and all raw scores beginning in 2018.

How do the analysts decide on scores?

The analyst grants a country/territory 0 to 4 points on each of the scoring indicators based on the conditions and events within that country/territory during the coverage period. They are guided by the main 25 methodology questions (see Methodology) as well as supplemental questions designed to provide more detail on the types of issues covered under that indicator. The analyst’s proposed scores are discussed and defended at annual review meetings, organized by region and attended by Freedom House staff and a panel of expert advisers. The final scores represent the consensus of the analysts, staff, and advisers, and are intended to be comparable from year to year and across countries and regions.

How many people are involved in the analysis process?

This year there were more than 100 lead country/territory analysts and more than 30 expert advisers. Freedom House staff provide input, and analysts consult with contacts in the countries under review.

How do you guard against political bias in the analysis process?

Measuring freedom is an inherently subjective task, and Freedom House minimizes this subjectivity as much as possible through a series of standards and reviews. Freedom House thoroughly vets analysts prior to contracting them in order to reduce political bias or a lack of methodological rigor as much as possible. Once selected, analysts are asked to ground any proposed score changes in the real-world events of the year under review, typically supported through reputable news media or credible nongovernmental organization reports. After analysts submit their proposed scores and draft narrative reports, all submissions are fully reviewed and discussed by fellow analysts, Freedom House staff, and outside experts. Scores are also compared with those of other countries in the region and the world, both that year and across time, to ensure that they are rational and proportional.

What does a trend arrow mean?

Freedom House assigns countries and territories upward or downward trend arrows in order to highlight developments of major significance or concern. These developments may include a positive or negative shift over multiple years, an especially notable change in a single year, or an important event in a country that is particularly influential in its region or the world. Trend arrows are always linked to a specific change or changes in score. However, most score changes do not warrant trend arrows. Trend arrows are determined by Freedom House staff, after consultation with analysts and expert advisers.

What do you mean by “Countries to Watch”?

Freedom House identified 10 countries whose democratic trajectories are ripe for change in 2018, designated “Countries to Watch.” In some cases the momentum is positive; others may be on the cusp of serious democratic declines. The listed countries are highly diverse, and are not intended to be compared against one another.

What qualifies as an “electoral democracy”?

An “electoral democracy” designation requires a score of 7 or better in subcategory A (Electoral Process), an overall Political Rights score of 20 or better, and an overall Civil Liberties score of 30 or better. The Civil Liberties threshold was added in the 2018 edition in order to better capture the range of freedoms required for democracy to function fully. This change was made following a thorough methodology review (see Methodology for more information).

Is Freedom in the World biased in favor of U.S. or Western values?

Freedom House believes that all people are entitled to freely choose their own leaders; form competing political parties; have a government free of corruption; obtain information from a free press; worship and study freely; engage in peaceful assembly and association; benefit from the rule of law and legal equality; and make their own choices about travel, economic engagement, and family life. The set of indicators measured by Freedom in the World is derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. History has shown that despite prejudiced assertions to the contrary, people of all regions and cultures desire these rights and are capable of exercising them responsibly.

Isn’t economic growth more important than political rights in poorer countries?

Freedom House believes that sustainable economic growth is far more challenging in countries that lack basic freedoms. Free elections provide long-term political stability and allow citizens to peacefully replace ineffective or corrupt leaders. And independent media provide a check on government, verifying official claims of success and exposing abusive practices. There is no valid reason for people in any country or territory to postpone their enjoyment of basic freedoms in exchange for the promise of economic growth.

Why does Freedom in the World cover certain territories separately and not others?

Freedom in the World covers certain related and disputed territories separately from independent countries. In the 2018 edition, it covered 14 such territories. Freedom House determines which territories to cover in Freedom in the World based on the following criteria:

  • Whether the territory is governed separately from the rest of the relevant country or countries, either de jure or de facto.
  • Whether conditions on the ground for political rights and civil liberties are significantly different from those in the rest of the relevant country or countries, meaning a separate assessment is likely to yield different ratings.
  • Whether the territory is the subject of enduring popular or diplomatic pressure for autonomy, independence, or incorporation into another country.
  • Whether the territory’s boundaries are sufficiently stable to allow an assessment of conditions for the year under review, and whether they can be expected to remain stable in future years so that year-on-year comparisons are possible.
  • Whether the territory is large and/or politically significant.

Assessment of a territory does not imply an endorsement of any side in a dispute over sovereignty. Freedom House typically takes no position on these disputes as such, focusing instead on the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area.

Does a government’s foreign policy affect its country scores?

No. The scores capture conditions on the ground within a given country/territory’s borders, not solely the government’s policies or actions. Thus, if a state carries out air strikes in another country/territory, any effects on the enjoyment of political rights and civil liberties will be felt—and therefore scored—primarily in the second country/territory.

Is it really possible to measure freedom?

Freedom in the World’s approach entails a comparative examination of concrete examples, holding up country against country and year against year. While this is not an exact science, it is rather clear, for instance, that people in North Korea are less free than people in Finland. It is also clear that Romania was more free in 2005 than it was in 1985. Different settings can thus be arranged along a continuum using fixed criteria, with specific institutions, laws, conditions, and events cited to justify each placement. This is the work of Freedom in the World.