The Freedom in the World 2003 survey contains reports on 192 countries and 18 related and disputed territories. Each country report begins with a section containing basic political, economic, and social data arranged in the following categories: polity, economy, population, purchasing power parities (PPP), life expectancy, religious groups, ethnic groups, capital, political rights [numerical rating], civil liberties [numerical rating], and status [Free, Partly Free, or Not Free]. Each territory report begins with a section containing the same data, except for PPP and life expectancy figures.
The polity category contains an encapsulated description of the dominant centers of freely chosen or unelected political power in each country or territory. The following polity descriptions were used in this year's survey: presidential--the president enjoys predominant power beyond ceremonial functions, while the legislature, if there is one, enjoys limited or no independence from the executive; parliamentary--the government (i.e., prime minister, cabinet) is approved by the legislature, and the head of state, if there is one, enjoys a largely ceremonial role; presidential-parliamentary--the president enjoys predominant power beyond ceremonial functions, and the government is approved by the legislature; traditional chiefs--traditional chiefs wield significant political power; traditional monarchy--the country's monarch enjoys predominant power through hereditary rule (as opposed to a constitutional monarchy); principality--the country's monarch is a prince who may enjoy either predominant power or a largely ceremonial role (constitutional monarchy); dominant party--the ruling mass-based party or front dominates the government, while allowing other parties to organize and compete short of taking control of the government; one party--absolute rule is enjoyed by the one legal party in the country; military--the military enjoys predominant power, despite the possible existence of a head of state or legislature; international protectorate - an international governing body, such as the United Nations, administers the country. In addition, the term "democracy" may be added to those polities in which the most recent national elections met minimum standards for free and fair elections as judged by international observers.
Polities may be modified by one or more of the following descriptions: insurgency, military-dominated, military-influenced, clergy-dominated, dominant party, federal, transitional, post-conflict. While the preceding list of polities may be applied to most countries, exceptions do occur. In those rare cases where the polities listed above do not adequately reflect the current situation in a particular country, other polity descriptions have been used.
The reports contain a brief description of the economy of each country or territory. Non-industrial economies are called traditional or pre-industrial. Developed market economies and developing countries with a modern market sector have the designation capitalist. Mixed capitalist countries combine predominantly private enterprise with substantial governmental involvement in the economy for social welfare purposes. Capitalist-statist economies have both large market sectors and government-owned productive enterprises. Mixed capitalist-statist economies have the characteristics of capitalist-statist economies, as well as major social welfare programs. Statist economies place virtually the entire economy under direct or indirect governmental control. Mixed statist economies are primarily government-controlled, but also have some private enterprise. Economies in transition between statist and capitalist forms may have the word "transitional" included in their economy description.
The population and life expectancy figures were obtained from the 2002 World Population Data Sheet of the Population Reference Bureau. Population figures for territories were obtained from sources including The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2003, the CIA World Factbook 2002, the World Gazetteer, and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).
The purchasing power parities (PPP) show per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in terms of international dollars in order to account for real buying power. These figures were obtained from the 2002 United Nations Development Program Human Development Report. For some countries, especially tiny island nations, this information was not available.
Data on religious groups was obtained primarily from the 2002 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Reports, The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2003, and the CIA World Factbook 2002.
Information about the ethnic groups in a country or territory is provided in order to assist with the understanding of certain issues, including minority rights, addressed by the survey. The primary sources used to obtain this information were The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2003 and the CIA World Factbook 2002.
The political rights and civil liberties categories contain numerical ratings between 1 and 7 for each country or territory rated, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free. The status designation of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free, which is determined by the combination of the political rights and civil liberties ratings, indicates the general state of freedom in a country or territory. The ratings of countries or territories which have improved or declined since the previous survey are indicated by asterisks next to the ratings. Positive or negative trends which do not warrant a ratings change since the previous year may be indicated by upward or downward trend arrows, which are located next to the name of the country or territory. A brief explanation of ratings changes or trend arrows is provided for each country or territory as required. For a full description of the methods used to determine the survey's ratings, please see the chapter on the survey's methodology.
Following the section on political, economic, and social data, each country report is divided into two parts: an overview and an analysis of political rights and civil liberties. The overview provides a brief historical background and a description of major recent events. The political rights and civil liberties section summarizes each country or territory's degree of respect for the rights and liberties which Freedom House uses to evaluate freedom in the world.
The related and disputed territory reports follow the country reports. In most cases, they are comparatively more brief than the country essays.