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Differentiating the democratic performance of the West


Address for correspondence: Joe Foweraker, Department of Government, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK
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Abstract. It is a commonplace of comparative politics that the democratic performance of the established democracies of the West is both uniform and superior to that of other democracies across the globe. This commonplace both reflects and reinforces the mainstream measures of democracy, like those of Freedom House or Polity III, that fail to differentiate the democratic performance of the West. This article examines this commonplace by deploying the measures of democratic performance contained in the newly constructed Database of Liberal Democratic Performance, and uses descriptive statistics (means and variance) to compare the performance of individual Western democracies, as well as the West overall with the ‘rest’. The Database is designed to capture a wider normative range of performance than the mainstream measures, and shows that the performance of the West is neither uniform nor superior in every respect, especially with regard to civil and minority rights. These findings are explored and confirmed by comparative case studies of minorities in the criminal justice systems of those Western democracies that tend to perform worst in this respect. In conclusion, it is suggested that the findings may begin to change the way we view the relationships between economic growth and democracy, political culture and democracy, and even constitutional design and democracy.