Methodology | Freedom House


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The Freedom in the World survey provides an annual evaluation of the state of global freedom. The survey, which includes both analytical reports and numerical ratings of countries and select territories, measures freedom by assessing two broad categories: political rights and civil who have a decisive vote on public policies. Civil liberties include the freedom to develop opinions, institutions, and personal autonomy without interference from the state.

Freedom House assigns each country and territory a political rights and civil liberties rating, along with a corresponding status designation of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. The survey does not rate governments or government performance per se, but rather the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals as the result of actions by both state and nongovernmental actors. The survey team does not base its judgment solely on the political conditions in a country or territory (e.g., war, terrorism), but on the effect that these conditions have on freedom.

Freedom House does not maintain a culture-bound view of freedom. The methodology of the survey established basic standards drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These standards apply to all countries and territories, irrespective of geographical location, ethnic or religious composition, and level of economic development.

For the purposes of the survey, countries are defined as internationally recognized independent states whose governments reside 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; however, this does not imply that Freedom House endorses Cypriot division. 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 that are in some relation of dependency to that state and whose relationship is not currently in serious legal or political dispute. Disputed territories are areas within internationally recognized sovereign states whose status is in serious political or violent dispute and that often are dominated by a minority ethnic group. 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.

Freedom House's first year-end reviews of freedom began in the 1950s as the Balance Sheet of Freedom. This modest report provided assessments of political trends and their implications for individual freedom. In 1972, Freedom House launched a new, more comprehensive annual study of freedom called "Freedom in the World." Raymond Gastil, a Harvard-trained specialist in regional studies from the University of Washington at Seattle, developed the survey's methodology, which assigned countries political rights and civil liberties ratings and categorized them as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. The findings appeared each year in Freedom House's Freedom at Issue bimonthly journal (later titled Freedom Review). Having served as a consultant to Freedom House, Gastil later moved to New York and became the full-time director of the survey. The survey first appeared in book form in 1978 and continued to be produced by Gastil, with essays by leading scholars on related issues, until 1989, when a larger team of in-house survey analysts was established. Subsequent editions of the survey, including the 2003 edition, have followed essentially the same format.

This year's survey covers developments in 192 countries and 18 territories. The research and ratings process involved over 30 analyst/writers and senior-level academic advisors. The seven members of the core research team headquartered in New York, along with nine outside consultant writers, prepared the country and territory reports. To reach its conclusions, the analysts used a broad range of sources of information, including foreign and domestic news reports, nongovernmental organization publications, think tank and academic analyses, individual professional contacts, and visits to the region in preparing their reports.

The country and territory ratings, which were proposed by the writers of each report, were reviewed on a comparative basis in a series of regional discussions involving the analysts and regional academic experts. These reviews were followed by cross-regional assessments in which efforts were made to ensure comparability and consistency in the findings. The ratings were also compared to the previous year's findings and any major numerical shifts or category changes were subjected to more intensive scrutiny. Some of the country essays were also reviewed by the regional academic advisors.

The survey's methodology is reviewed by an advisory committee on methodological issues. This year's committee included Joshua Muravchik, American Enterprise Institute; Larry Diamond, Journal of Democracy; Kenneth Bollen, University of North Carolina; Jack Snyder, Columbia University; and Jeane Kirkpatrick, American Enterprise Institute. Over the years, the committee has made a number of modest methodological changes to adapt to evolving ideas about political change and civil liberties. At the same time, the time series data are not revised retroactively and any changes to the methodology are introduced incrementally in order to ensure the comparability of the ratings from year to year.

Summary of the ratings process
Each country and territory is awarded from 0 to 4 raw points for each of 10 questions grouped into three subcategories in a political rights checklist, and for each of 15 questions grouped into four subcategories in a civil liberties checklist. The total raw points in each checklist correspond to two final numerical ratings of 1 to 7. These two ratings are then averaged to determine a status category of "Free," "Partly Free," or "Not Free."
(NOTE: see the full checklists and keys to political rights and civil liberties ratings and status at the end of the methodology essay)

Steps in the ratings process
Awarding of raw scores--Each question in both the political rights and civil liberties checklists is awarded from 0 to 4 raw points per checklist item, depending on the comparative rights or liberties present. In both checklists, 0 represents the smallest degree and 4 the greatest degree of rights or liberties present as specified in each 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 total score for political rights is 40 points, representing a total of up to 4 points for each of 10 questions. The highest possible total score for civil liberties is 60 points, representing a total of up to 4 points for each of 15 questions.

To answer the political rights questions, Freedom House considers to what extent the system offers voters the opportunity to choose freely from among candidates and to what extent the candidates are chosen independently of the state. However, formal electoral procedures are not the only factors that determine the real distribution of power. In many countries, the military retains a significant political role, while in others, the king maintains considerable power over the elected politicians.

In answering the civil liberties questions, Freedom House does not equate constitutional guarantees of human rights with the on-the-ground fulfillment of these rights. For states and territories with small populations, particularly tiny island nations, the absence of trade unions and other forms of association is not necessarily viewed as a negative situation unless the government or other centers of domination are deliberately blocking their establishment or operation.

Calculation of political rights and civil liberties ratings--A country or territory is assigned a numerical rating on a scale of 1 to 7 based on the total number of raw points awarded to the political rights and civil liberties checklist questions. For both checklists, 1 represents the most free and 7 the least free; each 1 to 7 rating corresponds to a range of total raw scores (see Tables 1 and 2).

Assigning of the status of Free, Partly Free, Not Free--Each pair of political rights and civil liberties ratings is averaged to determine an overall status of "Free," "Partly Free," or "Not Free." Those whose ratings average 1-2.5 are considered Free, 3-5.5 Partly Free, and 5.5-7 Not Free (see Table 3). The dividing line between Partly Free and Not Free falls at 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 that determines the final status. Countries and territories with combined raw scores of 0-33 points are Not Free, 34-67 points are Partly Free, and 68-100 are Free.

The designations of Free, Partly Free, and Not Free each cover a broad third of the available raw points. Therefore, countries and territories within any one category, especially those at either end of the category, can have quite different human rights situations. In order to see the distinctions within each category, a country or territory's political rights and civil liberties ratings should be examined. For example, countries at the lowest end 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 Free group (1 for both political rights and civil liberties). Also, a designation of Free does not mean that a country enjoys perfect freedom or lacks serious problems, only that it enjoys comparably more freedom than Partly Free or Not Free (or some other Free) countries.

Indications of ratings and/or status changes--Each country or territory's political rights rating, civil liberties rating, and status is included in the statistics section that precedes each country or territory report. A change in a political rights or civil liberties rating since the previous survey edition is indicated with an asterisk next to the rating that has changed. A brief ratings change explanation is included in the statistics section.

Assigning of trend arrows--Upward or downward trend arrows may be assigned to countries and territories. Trend arrows indicate general positive or negative trends since the previous survey that are not necessarily reflected in the raw points and do not warrant a ratings change. 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. A trend arrow is indicated with an arrow next to the name of the country or territory that appears at the top of each country or territory report.

Political Rights
Rating of 1-Countries and territories that 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. Minority groups have reasonable self-government or can participate in the government through informal consensus.

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

Ratings of 3, 4, 5-The same conditions that undermine freedom in countries and territories with a rating of 2 may also weaken political rights in those with a rating of 3, 4, or 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.

Rating of 6-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 some degree of representation or autonomy for minorities. A few states are traditional monarchies that mitigate their relative lack of political rights through the use of consultation with their subjects, tolerance of political discussion, and acceptance of public petitions.

Rating of 7-For countries and territories with a rating of 7, political rights are absent or virtually nonexistent as a result of 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 that dominates political power in the absence of an authoritative, functioning central government.

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

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

Ratings of 3, 4, 5-Countries and territories that have received a rating of 3, 4, or 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 actors.

Rating of 6-People in countries and territories with a rating of 6 experience severely restricted rights of expression and association, and there are almost always political prisoners and other manifestations of political terror. These countries may be characterized by a few partial rights, such as some religious and social freedoms, some highly restricted private business activity, and relatively free private discussion.

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

Countries and territories generally have ratings in political rights and civil liberties that are within two ratings numbers of each other. Without a well-developed civil society, it is difficult, if not impossible, to have an atmosphere supportive of political rights. Consequently, 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.

For the 2003 edition of the survey, several modest changes were made to the methodology. The political rights checklist has been divided into three subcategories: political process, political pluralism and participation, and functioning of government. A question on academic freedom (question A3) was added to the civil liberties checklist. A question on government accountability to the electorate and government openness and transparency (question C3) was added to the political rights checklist. A question on government corruption was moved from the civil liberties to the political rights checklist (question C2). In the civil liberties checklist, the question, "Is the population treated equally under the law?" was separated from question C2 and made a separate question (question C4). In addition, a few questions were reworded slightly or moved within each checklist for the sake of greater clarity.

In addition to providing numerical ratings, the survey assigns the designation "electoral democracy" to countries that have met certain minimum standards. Among the basic criteria for designating a country as an electoral democracy are that voters can choose their authoritative leaders freely from among competing groups and individuals not designated by the government; voters have access to information about candidates and their platforms; voters can vote without undue pressure from the authorities; and candidates can campaign free from intimidation. The presence of certain irregularities during the electoral process does not automatically disqualify a country from being designated an electoral democracy.
Freedom House's term "electoral democracy" differs from "liberal democracy" in that the latter also implies the presence of a substantial array of civil liberties. In the survey, all Free countries qualify as both electoral and liberal democracies. By contrast, some Partly Free countries qualify as electoral, but not liberal, democracies.

Political Rights Checklist

A. Electoral Process
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?

B. Political Pluralism and Participation
1. 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?
2. 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?
3. Are the people's political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
4. 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?

C. Functioning of Government
1. Do freely elected representatives determine the policies of the government?
2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?

Additional discretionary Political Rights questions:
A. 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?
B. 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?
(NOTE: For each political rights and civil liberties checklist question, 0 to 4 points are added, depending on the comparative rights and liberties present [0 represents the least, 4 represents the most]. However, for additional discretionary question B only, 1 to 4 points are subtracted, as necessary.)

Civil Liberties Checklist
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?
3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
4. Is there open and free private discussion?

B. Associational 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
1. Is there an independent judiciary?
2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
3. Is there protection from police terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
4. Is the population treated equally under the law?

D. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights
1. 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?
2. Do citizens have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, or organized crime?
3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation




Total Raw Scores PR Rating
36-40 1
30-35 2
24-29 3
18-23 4
12-17 5
6-11 6
0-5 7


Total Raw Scores CL Rating
53-60 1
44-52 2
35-43 3
26-34 4
17-25 5
8-16 6
0-7 7


Combined Average of the PR and CL Ratings Country Status
1 to 2.5 Free
3 to 5.5 Partly Free
5.5 to 7 Not Free