Methodology and Checklist Questions | Freedom House

Methodology and Checklist Questions

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Since its inception in the 1970s, Freedom House’s Freedom in the World survey has provided an annual evaluation of political rights and civil liberties throughout the world.  The Survey attempts to judge all countries and territories by a single standard and to emphasize the importance of democracy and freedom.  At a minimum, a democracy is a political system in which the people choose their authoritative leaders freely from among competing groups and individuals who were not designated by the government.  Freedom represents the opportunity to act spontaneously in a variety of fields outside the control of the government and other centers of potential domination.

The Survey rates countries and territories based on real world situations caused by state and nongovernmental factors, rather than on governmental intentions or legislation alone.  Freedom House does not rate governments per se, but rather the rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals in each country or territory.  The Survey does not base its judgment solely on the political conditions in a country or territory (i.e., war, terrorism, etc.), but by the effect which these conditions have on freedom.

Freedom House does not maintain a culture-bound view of democracy.  The Survey demonstrates that, in addition to countries in Europe and the Americas, there are free states with varying forms of democracy functioning among people of all races and religions in Africa, the Pacific, and Asia.  In some Pacific islands, free countries can have political systems based on competing family groups and personalities rather than on European- or American-style political parties.  In recent years, there has been a proliferation of democracies in developing countries, and the Survey reflects their growing numbers.  To reach its conclusions, the Survey team employs a broad range of international sources of information, including both foreign and domestic news reports, NGO publications, think tank and academic analyses, and individual professional contacts.


The Survey’s understanding of freedom encompasses two general sets of characteristics grouped under political rights and civil liberties.  Political rights enable people to participate freely in the political process, which is the system by which the polity chooses authoritative policy makers and attempts to make binding decisions affecting the national, regional, or local community.  In a free society, this represents the right of all adults to vote and compete for public office, and for elected representatives to have a decisive vote on public policies. Civil liberties include the freedoms to develop views, institutions, and personal autonomy apart from the state.

The Survey employs two series of checklists, one for questions regarding political rights and one for civil liberties, and assigns each country or territory considered a numerical rating for each category.  The political rights and civil liberties ratings are then averaged and used to assign each country and territory to an overall status of “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free.”  (See the section below, “Rating System for Political Rights and Civil Liberties,” for a detailed description of the Survey’s methodology.)

Freedom House rates both independent countries and their territories.  For the purposes of the Survey, countries are defined as internationally recognized independent states whose governments are resident within their officially claimed borders.  In the case of Cyprus, two sets of ratings are provided, as there are two governments on that divided island.  This does not imply that Freedom House endorses Cypriot division.  We note only that neither the predominantly Greek Republic of Cyprus, nor the Turkish-occupied, predominantly Turkish territory of the Republic of Northern Cyprus, is the de facto government for the entire island.  This year, East Timor moved from the disputed territory to country category following the region’s successful referendum on independence in August 1999.  The referendum, which was widely recognized by the international community, led to East Timor being placed under United Nations administration during its transition to full sovereignty. 

Freedom House divides territories into two categories: related territories and disputed territories.  Related territories consist mostly of colonies, protectorates, and island dependencies of sovereign states which are in some relation of dependency to that state and whose relationship is not currently in serious legal or political dispute.  Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, and French Guiana are three examples of related territories. Since most related territories have a broad range of civil liberties and some form of self-government, a higher proportion of them have the “Free” designation than do independent countries.  Disputed territories represent areas within internationally recognized sovereign states which are usually dominated by a minority ethnic group and whose status is in serious political or violent dispute.  This group also includes territories whose incorporation into nation-states is not universally recognized.  In some cases, the issue of dispute is the desire of the majority of the population of that territory to secede from the sovereign state and either form an independent country or become part of a neighboring state.  Tibet, Kashmir, and Abkhazia are examples falling within this category. 

Freedom House assigns only designations of “Free,” “Partly Free,” and “Not Free” for the eight related territories with populations under 5,000, designated as “microterritories,” without corresponding category numbers.  However, the same methodology is used to determine the status of these territories as for larger territories and independent states.  The microterritories in the Survey are Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Rapanui (Easter Island), Falkland Islands, Niue, Norfolk Island, Pitcairn Islands, Svalbard, and Tokelau.  The Survey excludes from its consideration uninhabited territories and such entities as the U.S.-owned Johnston Atoll, which has only a transient military population and no native inhabitants.


  1. Is the head of state and/or head of government or other chief authority elected through free and fair elections?
  2. Are the legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
  3. Are there fair electoral laws, equal campaigning opportunities, fair polling, and honest tabulation of ballots?
  4. Are the voters able to endow their freely elected representatives with real power?
  5. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
  6. Is there a significant opposition vote, de facto opposition power, and a realistic possibility for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
  7. Are the people free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
  8. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, and other minority groups have reasonable self-determination, self-government, autonomy, or participation through informal consensus in the decision-making process?

Additional discretionary Political Rights questions:

  1. For traditional monarchies that have no parties or electoral process, does the system provide for consultation with the people, encourage discussion of policy, and allow the right to petition the ruler?
  2. Is the government or occupying power deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory so as to destroy a culture or tip the political balance in favor of another group?

To answer the political rights questions, Freedom House considers the extent to which the system offers the voter the chance to make a free choice among candidates, and to what extent the candidates are chosen independently of the state.  Freedom House recognizes that formal electoral procedures are not the only factors that determine the real distribution of power.  In many Latin American countries, for example, the military retains a significant political role, and in Morocco the king maintains considerable power over the elected politicians.  The more that people suffer under such domination by unelected forces, the less chance the country has of receiving credit for self-determination in our Survey.


A.          Freedom of Expression and Belief

  1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?  (Note: in cases where the media are state-controlled but offer pluralistic points of view, the Survey gives the system credit.)

  2. Are there free religious institutions and is there free private and public religious expression?


B.          Association and Organizational Rights

  1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?

  2. Is there freedom of political or quasi-political organization?  (Note: this includes political parties, civic organizations, ad hoc issue groups, etc.)

  3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining?  Are there free professional and other private organizations?


C.          Rule of Law and Human Rights

  1. Is there an independent judiciary?

  2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters?  Is the population treated equally under the law?  Are police under direct civilian control?

  3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system?  Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?  (Note: freedom from war and insurgencies enhances the liberties in a free society, but the absence of wars and insurgencies does not in and of itself make a not free society free.)

  4. Is there freedom from extreme government indifference and corruption?

D.        Personal Autonomy and Economic Rights

  1. Is there open and free private discussion?
  2. Is there personal autonomy?  Does the state control travel, choice of residence, or choice of employment?  Is there freedom from indoctrination and excessive dependency on the state?
  3. Are property rights secure?  Do citizens have the right to establish private businesses?  Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, or organized crime?
  4. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
  5. Is there equality of opportunity, including freedom from exploitation by or dependency on landlords, employers, union leaders, bureaucrats, or other types of obstacles to a share of legitimate economic gains?

When analyzing the civil liberties checklist, Freedom House does not mistake constitutional guarantees of human rights for those rights in practice.  For states and territories with small populations, particularly tiny island nations, the absence of trade unions and other types of association is not necessarily viewed as a negative situation unless the government or other centers of domination are deliberately blocking their formation or operation.  In some cases, the small size of these countries and territories may result in a lack of sufficient institutional complexity to make them fully comparable to larger countries.  The question of equality of opportunity also implies a free choice of employment and education.  Extreme inequality of opportunity prevents disadvantaged individuals from enjoying full exercise of civil liberties.  Typically, very poor countries and territories lack both opportunities for economic advancement and other liberties on this checklist.  The question on extreme government indifference and corruption is included to highlight that the human rights of a country’s residents suffer when governments ignore the social and economic welfare of large sectors of the population.  Government corruption can pervert the political process and hamper the development of a free economy.


The Survey rates political rights and civil liberties separately on a seven-category scale, 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free.  A country is assigned to a particular numerical category based on responses to the checklist and the judgments of the Survey team at Freedom House.  According to the methodology, the team assigns initial ratings to countries by awarding from 0 to 4 raw points per checklist item, depending on the comparative rights or liberties present.  (In the Surveys completed from 1989-90 through 1992-93, the methodology allowed for a less nuanced range of 0 to 2 raw points per question.)  The only exception to the addition of 0 to 4 raw points per checklist item is additional discretionary question B in the political rights checklist, for which 1 to 4 raw points are subtracted depending on the severity of the situation.  The highest possible score for political rights is 32 points, based on up to 4 points for each of eight questions.  The highest possible score for civil liberties is 56 points, based on up to 4 points for each of fourteen questions. 

After placing countries in initial categories based on checklist points, the Survey team makes minor adjustments to account for factors such as extreme violence, whose intensity may not be reflected in answering the checklist questions.  These exceptions aside, the results of the checklist system reflect real world situations and allow for the placement of countries and territories into their respective categories.

Freedom House assigns upward or downward trend arrows to countries and territories to indicate general positive or negative trends that may not be apparent from the ratings.  Such trends may or may not be reflected in raw points, depending on the circumstances in each country or territory.  A country cannot receive both a numerical ratings change and a trend arrow in the same year, nor can it receive trend arrows in the same direction in two successive years.   Distinct from the trend arrows which appear before the name of a country above its respective country report, the triangles located next to the political rights and civil liberties ratings (see accompanying tables of comparative measures of freedom for countries and related and disputed territories) indicate changes in those ratings caused by real world events since the last Survey.

Without a well-developed civil society, it is difficult, if not impossible, to have an atmosphere supportive of democracy.  A society that does not have free individual and group expressions in nonpolitical matters is not likely to make an exception for political ones.  There is no country in the Survey with a rating of 6 or 7 for civil liberties and, at the same time, a rating of 1 or 2 for political rights.  Almost without exception in the Survey, countries and territories have ratings in political rights and civil liberties that are within two ratings numbers of each other.

Political Rights                                                                  

Category Number                                                                              Raw Points

                1                                                                                              28-32

                2                                                                                              23-27

                3                                                                                              19-22

                4                                                                                              14-18

                5                                                                                              10-13

                6                                                                                              5-9

                7                                                                                              0-4


Civil Liberties

Category Number                                                                              Raw Points

               1                                                                                              50-56

               2                                                                                              42-49

               3                                                                                              34-41

               4                                                                                              26-33

               5                                                                                             17-25

               6                                                                                              9-16

               7                                                                                               0-8



Political Rights

Countries and territories which receive a rating of 1 for political rights come closest to the ideals suggested by the checklist questions, beginning with free and fair elections.  Those who are elected rule, there are competitive parties or other political groupings, and the opposition plays an important role and has actual power.  Citizens enjoy self-determination or an extremely high degree of autonomy (in the case of territories), and minority groups have reasonable self-government or can participate in the government through informal consensus.  With the exception of such entities as tiny island states, these countries and territories have decentralized political power and free sub-national elections. 

Countries and territories rated 2 in political rights are less free than those rated 1.  Such factors as gross political corruption, violence, political discrimination against minorities, and foreign or military influence on politics may be present and weaken the quality of democracy.

The same conditions which undermine freedom in countries and territories with a rating of 2 may also weaken political rights in those with a rating of 3, 4, and 5.  Other damaging elements can include civil war, heavy military involvement in politics, lingering royal power, unfair elections, and one-party dominance.  However, states and territories in these categories may still enjoy some elements of political rights, including the freedom to organize quasi-political groups, reasonably free referenda, or other significant means of popular influence on government.

Countries and territories with political rights rated 6 have systems ruled by military juntas, one-party dictatorships, religious hierarchies, or autocrats.  These regimes may allow only a minimal manifestation of political rights, such as competitive local elections or some degree of representation or autonomy for minorities.  Some countries and territories rated 6 are in the early or aborted stages of democratic transition.  A few states are traditional monarchies that mitigate their relative lack of political rights through the use of consultation with their subjects, toleration of political discussion, and acceptance of public petitions. 

For countries and territories with a rating of 7, political rights are absent or virtually nonexistent due to the extremely oppressive nature of the regime or severe oppression in combination with civil war.  States and territories in this group may also be marked by extreme violence or warlord rule which dominates political power in the absence of an authoritative, functioning central government.

Civil Liberties

Countries and territories which receive a rating of 1 come closest to the ideals expressed in the civil liberties checklist, including freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion.  They are distinguished by an established and generally equitable system of rule of law and are comparatively free of extreme government indifference and corruption.  Countries and territories with this rating enjoy free economic activity and tend to strive for equality of opportunity.

States and territories with a rating of 2 have deficiencies in three or four aspects of civil liberties, but are still relatively free.

Countries and territories which have received a rating of 3, 4, and 5 range from those that are in at least partial compliance with virtually all checklist standards to those with a combination of high or medium scores for some questions and low or very low scores on other questions.  The level of oppression increases at each successive rating level, particularly in the areas of censorship, political terror, and the prevention of free association.  There are also many cases in which groups opposed to the state engage in political terror that undermines other freedoms.  Therefore, a poor rating for a country is not necessarily a comment on the intentions of the government, but may reflect real restrictions on liberty caused by nongovernmental terror. 

Countries and territories rated 6 are characterized by a few partial rights, such as some religious and social freedoms, some highly restricted private business activity, and relatively free private discussion.  In general, people in these states and territories experience severely restricted expression and association, and there are almost always political prisoners and other manifestations of political terror.

States and territories with a rating of 7 have virtually no freedom.  An overwhelming and justified fear of repression characterizes these societies.


The Survey assigns each country and territory the status of “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free” by averaging their political rights and civil liberties ratings.  Those whose ratings average 1-2.5 are generally considered “Free,” 3-5.5 “Partly Free,” and 5.5-7 “Not Free.”  The dividing line between “Partly Free” and “Not Free” usually falls within the group whose ratings numbers average 5.5.  For example, countries that receive a rating of 6 for political rights and 5 for civil liberties, or a 5 for political rights and a 6 for civil liberties, could be either “Partly Free” or “Not Free.”  The total number of raw points is the definitive factor which determines the final status.  Countries and territories with combined raw scores of 0-30 points are “Not Free,” 31-59 points are “Partly Free,” and 60-88 are “Free.”  Based on raw points, this year there is one unusual case:  Mali’s ratings average 3.0, but it is “Free.”

It should be emphasized that the “Free,” “Partly Free,” and “Not Free” labels are highly simplified terms that each cover a broad third of the available raw points.  Therefore, countries and territories within each category, especially those at either end of each category, can have quite different human rights situations.  In order to see the distinctions within each category, one should examine a country or territory’s political rights and civil liberties ratings.

The differences in raw points between countries in the three broad categories represent distinctions in the real world.  There are obstacles which “Partly Free” countries must overcome before they can be called “Free,” just as there are impediments which prevent “Not Free” countries from being called “Partly Free.”  Countries at the lowest rung of the “Free” category (2 in political rights and 3 in civil liberties, or 3 in political rights and 2 in civil liberties) differ from those at the upper end of the “Partly Free” group (e.g., 3 for both political rights and civil liberties).  Typically, there is more violence and/or military influence on politics at 3, 3 than at 2, 3.

The distinction between the least bad “Not Free” countries and the least free “Partly Free” may be less obvious than the gap between “Partly Free” and “Free,” but at “Partly Free,” there is at least one additional factor that keeps a country from being assigned to the “Not Free” category.  For example, Lebanon, which was rated 6, 5 “Partly Free” in 1994, was rated 6, 5, but “Not Free,” in 1995 after its legislature unilaterally extended the incumbent president’s term indefinitely.  Though not sufficient to drop the country’s political rights rating to 7, there was enough of a drop in raw points to change its category.

Freedom House does not view democracy as a static concept, and the Survey recognizes that a democratic country does not necessarily belong in our category of “Free” states.  A democracy can lose freedom and become merely “Partly Free.”  Sri Lanka and Colombia are examples of such “Partly Free” democracies.  In other cases, countries that replaced military regimes with elected governments can have less than complete transitions to liberal democracy.  Guatemala fits the description of this kind of “Partly Free” democracy.  Some scholars use the term “semi-democracy” or “formal democracy,” instead of “Partly Free” democracy, to refer to countries that are democratic in form but less than free in substance.

The designation “Free” does not mean that a country enjoys perfect freedom or lacks serious problems.  As an institution which advocates human rights, Freedom House remains concerned about a variety of social problems and civil liberties questions in the U.S. and other countries that the Survey places in the “Free” category.  An improvement in a country’s rating does not mean that human rights campaigns should cease.  On the contrary, the findings of the Survey should be regarded as a means to encourage improvements in the political rights and civil liberties conditions in all countries.