Polyarchy and Contestation Scales

Research project

The Polyarchy and Contestation Scales measure the level of the contestation dimension of polyarchy in independent states. The dataset was compiled by Michael Coppedge and Wolfgang Reinicke, and has been used in several studies of democratisation, e.g. Coppedge (1997).


Polyarchy and Contestation Scales

Polyarchy and Contestation Scales


Polyarchy and Contestation Scales


SPSS, Excel


1985, 2000


196 countries

Last reviewed


Data types and sources

Expert-coded variables, based on a number of sources. The only source of information for the 2000 data was the US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights from 2001; multiple sources of information were used for the 1985 data. The data for 1985 are coded by Michael Coppedge and Wolfgang Reinicke, while the data for 2000 were coded by graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Notre Dame.

Data download

Polyarchy and Contestation Scales


The dataset sets out to measure levels of the contestation dimension of polyarchy in independent countries worldwide. It consists of 13 variables that measure media pluralism, fairness of elections and other characteristics associated with the concept of democracy/polyarchy. Based on these variables, two scales (from 1 to 9) indicate the level of contestation and polyarchy in countries around the world.

Geographical coverage

The dataset covers 196 countries.

Time coverage and updates

Years covered: 1985 and 2000. Updates are planned, but on an irregular schedule.


The dataset is described in Coppedge and Reinicke (1990). Variable labels, interpretation, coding criteria, and information about the coding and the scales are also provided in the excel-formatted data document.

Access conditions and cost

Available free of charge.

Access procedures

Predefined table.

Data formats

SPSS and Excel.

Comparability and data quality

Not examined. See Munck and Verkuilen (2002) and Chapter 5 in Rydland et al. (2008) for a general discussion of democracy indices. However, the fact that data only exists for two years and that it is uncertain whether it will be updated, is a disadvantage for this dataset. So is the lack of documentation of sources. Other indices of democracy are more consistent on these areas (e.g., Polity IV, ACLP, Freedom in the World).


Coppedge, Michael, and Wolfgang Reinicke. 1990. “Measuring polyarchy”. Studies in Comparative International Development 25 (1): 51-72.

Coppedge, Michael. 1997. “Modernization and thresholds of democracy: evidence for a common path and process”. In Inequality, Democracy, and Economic Development, ed. Manus Midlarsky. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Munck, Gerardo L., and Jay Verkuilen. 2002. “Conceptualizing and measuring democracy: evaluating alternative indices”. Comparative Political Studies 35 (February): 5-34.

Rydland, Lars Tore, Sveinung Arnesen and Åse Gilje Østensen. 2008. Contextual data for the European Social Survey. An Overview and assessment of extant resources. NSD Report No.124, Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD).