Freedom House’s Methodology: Strengths and Weaknesses

The Freedom in the World report assess’ the rights and freedoms enjoyed by individual citizens – as opposed to the performance of the government – using a three-tiered system of scores, ratings, and status in order to determine whether the country or territory can be considered free, partly free, or not free. The methodology used is rather unique for politics, in that it does not ‘discriminate’ against “geographic location, ethnic or religious composition, or level of economic development.” It also makes the population of the countries and territories irrelevant by not penalizing those with small populations “lacking pluralism in the political system or civil society if [the] limitations are determined to be a function of size, [rather than] restrictions by the government or other powerful actors.

One strength of the methodology is that the assessment has a greater emphasis on whether or not the laws and practice of the government are actually implemented, rather than just assessing whether or not the law and/or practice is or is not supposed to exist.This is especially important because governments don’t exactly practice what they preach. For example, the current president and prime minister of france repeatedly advertise that they are in the fight against terrorism and anti-semitism, when, in reality, they are funding the groups causing those conflicts. As opposed to being based off of one question or someone’s general opinion, the methodology follows a specific, detailed criteria and questions in order to decide which category the country or territory falls in. For example, when it comes to rating whether or not a country or territory is an electoral democracy, the methodology specifies the definition that is used for the term, which can have multiple interpretations.

With strengths, comes weaknesses and despite how much attention is paid to detail in the question aspect of the analysis, it lacks clarity in the explanation of scores. Each political rights and civil liberties score has certain criteria to meet except for scores 3, 4, and 5. These scores seem to be lumped together and it is unclear as to what standards differ the three scores. Another weakness is the bias that comes with analyzing in general. Although, measures have been put in place to reduce this bias, the analysts and advisors ultimately come from diverse backgrounds, which can easily affect how they interpret each country and territory. The way in which “Freedom in the World operates from the assumption that freedom for all peoples is best achieved in liberal democratic societies” could also be seen as bringing in another bias, however, because it is said before-the-fact, when reviewing the results it is helpful in knowing where the basis of the decision came from.

No matter how many measures are put in place, there will always be a bias in any analysis, especially when it comes to politics and although the explanation of what each score entails could be clearer, the Freedom House methodology does a great job quantifying aspects of political systems that are not easy to quantify. Overall, Freedom House’s guidelines and procedures to score and rate a country or specific territory on their political rights and civil liberties are quite reliable given the amount of depth and specifics the analysis covers.

Readings:

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world-2015/discarding-democracy-return-iron-fist

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world-2015/methodology

Article:

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4676040,00.html

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5 thoughts on “Freedom House’s Methodology: Strengths and Weaknesses

  1. I agree with you on your analysis of Freedom House especially how there can be bias in any analysis. Although I would like to ask you two questions: the first is, how does Freedom House and other groups create a quantified scale to measure Freedom, something that usually is not very easily quantifiable? In this case the 1-7 scale they use. My second question is does Freedom House conduct qualitative research by interviewing people in different countries or do they strictly just use quantitative statistical analysis to determine Freedom levels? There are pros and cons to both, however, I think through a better combination of both quantitative and qualitative work, maybe those middle scores you mentioned (3,4, and 5) might become more distinct/different.

  2. I enjoyed your analysis on the strengths of using this methodology as the assessment. I think it delves deeper into the laws and practice of the government and how they are actually implemented. I believe that this is important, especially your point about how governments do not always practice what they preach. Overall I think your thoughts and analysis of the Freedom House guidelines is very thoughtful and in depth.

  3. Interesting take on the notion of freedom. I’d like to note that despite a country’s score on a quantitative scale, actual conditions on the ground are often different. With the French government funding anti-Semitic groups might also be subsidie towards places of worship that have been vandalized or destroyed. And while a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective might reveal details that were not initially clear by analysing statistical data, account must be taken for inherent bias from researchers and the complex history of each nation, including war, institutionalized racism or sexism, genocide, or dictatorship. Countries take a long time to fully rebound from harsh internal conditions and should have the scale weighted accordingly.

  4. Interesting analysis, and I would tend to largely agree. I would agree that there could be bias in the results, which it seems could be in favor of the West. For example, most of the Western nations are constantly given the optimal grade of 1 for political freedom and 1 for civil liberties, or another high grade, although the case could be made for a nation such as, say, the United States, that given the corruption in the political system and dominance of wealthy and powerful interests on our politics, we are not all that democratic. It makes you wonder, despite the supposedly objective criteria Freedom House uses, whether they are biased in favor of Western democracies. Additionally, it is worth noting that it seems that in nations with weak LGBT civil liberties (the United States only recently allowed national gay marriage, for instance) that this does not seem to much affect Freedom House’s scores for these most democratic of nations. Additionally, Freedom House seems to neglect or overlook much of the foreign influence over the affairs of foreign governments, such as our influence over even democratic governments, such as South Korea, Japan, and Pacific Island nations, amongst others. It seems to be a mostly-good indicator of democracy, though up to much interpretation and debate still.

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