WP168: Measuring democracy in Africa: Applying anchors

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Image courtesy of UN Photo/Marco Dormino via Flickr
Working papers
Massa Coulibaly


While studies of public attitudes toward democracy often rely on citizens’ subjective evaluations to gauge a country’s democratic development, divergent popular understandings of “democracy” make comparisons between survey respondents, countries, and continents problematic. One way that researchers have tried to address this lack of a universal standard is by “anchoring” respondents’ direct assessments of their democracy against a set of vignettes describing political conditions in fictional countries. This approach was tried in Round 4 of the Afrobarometer surveys (2008-2009).

Building on the work of Michael Bratton, this paper describes a theoretical framework for “anchorage” and presents detailed results of applying this method to the evaluations of their democracy by Malians and, in comparison, the citizens of 18 other African countries. By “correcting” for divergent understandings of the concept of democracy, this analysis illustrates the value of the “anchorage” method for achieving better assessments of democratic development and more reliable comparisons between countries and regions.