Ever wondered how democracy levels correlate with LGBT and human rights? Let us show you…

Human Rights - Politics and International Studies

It is often stated that for democracy to flourish citizens have to enjoy a certain level of equality in law. It is also stated that people must have human rights protections to allow voting and debate to take place free of corruption and manipulation.

We decided to take a closer look at the relationship between democracy and human rights and LGBT equality around the world.

We have compiled – and compared – data from three different sources, all publicly available, and created some handy graphics that let you explore country by country.

We have also looked into how the data was compiled and whether or not it is based on fact or is speculative.

Democracy Score

A map showing democracy scores for world countries

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What is the Democracy Score?

It is based on the Democracy Index, calculated by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which measures the level of democracy in countries across the world based on 60 indicators.

Human Rights Protection Score

A map showing human rights scores in countries of the world

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What is the Human Rights Protection Score?

It is a score based on the human rights practices in a country.

Equality Index

Map showing equality score in different countries

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What is the Equality Index?

It is a rating issued by Equaldex based on the legal rights of LGBT people in different countries.

The Equality Index is an experimental rating to help visualise the legal rights and public attitudes towards LGBT people in each region.

Currently, the index only applies to written law — not necessarily practiced law — and only takes public opinion into account when data is available.

Examining the data

We collected the data from each of the sources and plotted the Democracy Score against the Equality Index and Human Rights Protection Score:

Democracy V Human Rights Protection Score


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The data shows a string positive correlation between higher levels of democracy and a higher amount of human rights protection meaning that on average a higher level of democracy in a country equates to better human rights protection.

Democracy V Equality Index

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The data indicates a positive correlation between a higher Democracy Score and a higher score on the Equality Index meaning that on average a higher level of democracy in a country equates to a more rights for LGBT people.

Raw data

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So what do these comparisons tell us?

The study finds a strong positive correlation between equality for LGBT people and the level of democracy in countries. Those with the highest Democracy Score, as calculated by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), tend also to have the highest scores in an Equality Index compiled by the collaborative knowledge database Equaldex. This is based on LGBT rights laid out in the written laws of each country.

The correlation between countries’ democracy ratings and legal equality scores was clear. For instance, Norway, which had the highest democracy score (9.93 out of a possible 10), was near the top of the equality rankings (scoring 9.5 out of a possible 10). On the other hand, North Korea, which had the lowest democratic rating (1.08), also had the joint-lowest LGBT equality rating (0.25). In general, according to the data Western countries tend to do better than other countries on both the democracy and equality scales.

Another set of data is analysed: The Human Rights Protection Score for different countries, using information compiled by the CIRI Human Rights Data Project. The CIRI data, mostly based on details provided by Amnesty International and the US State Department, judges to what extent governments respect or ignore/flout human rights.

There is a correlation between the EIU’s democratic scores and the Human Rights Protection Score for different countries. For example, Iceland, with the highest human rights score (3.93), has a high democratic score of 9.5. Sudan has the lowest human rights score (-2.11) and a low democratic score of 2.37. According to the data, Western countries tend to fare better than others under both the democratic and human rights measures.

But what about the data used? What doubts are there about its compilation and usage? And is there perhaps a bias in favour of awarding high democratic, LGBT equality and human rights scores to Western countries?

We have judged the reliability and usefulness of the sources studied according to whether the information they gave was “factual” or “speculative”.

First, the EIU’s Democracy Index, applying to countries around the world, relies on 60 separate indicators. These include factual information, such as electoral participation levels. But the index also looks at subjective elements, including “political culture” and levels of “corruption”, as defined by “experts”. No indication is given by the EIU as to who these people are.

The EIU itself acknowledges there is “no consensus on how to measure democracy”, with definitions “contested”. However, the use of data from organisations such as Asian Barometer, Latin American Barometer and Afrobarometer suggests at least some non-Western sources are considered and consulted. In total, the EIU’s information is judged to be partially speculative.

Second, the Human Rights Protection Score is based on the CIRI database, which uses US State Department and Amnesty International data as its primary sources. This does not prove Western bias in the research but allows the possibility that it occurred. This study finds the Human Rights Protection Score to be partially speculative.

Third, the study looks at how the Equality Index is compiled. The information Equaldex has gathered can be considered factual, rather than speculative. This is because the Equality Index score for each country was based on easily comparable written laws regarding LGBT people. These cover areas such as whether homosexuality was legal, whether LGBT people could serve in the military, and the laws governing change of gender, age of consent and employment discrimination.

However, the Equality Index looks only at written – rather than practised – law. So there could be differences between its findings and reality for the treatment of LGBT people, particularly in countries where laws are ignored or not enforced.

Despite these methodological concerns, the research so far provides useful food for thought on the relationship between LGBT rights and democracy. The results of this experiment are in no way definitive, with a clearer sense needed of how the data was compiled.

Yet there is a strong enough correlation between human rights and equality enjoyed by LGBT people in different countries and the way those countries are governed to suggest further research should be carried out.

It raises questions over whether democratic freedoms bring about better human rights and greater equality for LGBT people.

And it would be worth looking in more detail into whether improved human rights and recognition of LGBT communities helps promote the creation of inclusive, well-functioning democracies.


Democracy Score

How is it calculated?

The democracy index is a weighted average compiled from the answers to 60 questions in 5 categories:

  1. Electoral process and pluralism
  2. Civil liberties
  3. The functioning of government
  4. Political participation
  5. Political culture

These questions are answered by a combination of experts (no details provided about who they are) and results from public-opinion surveys such as the World Values Survey, Eurobarometer surveys, Gallup polls, Asian Barometer, Latin American Barometer and Afrobarometer.

A dichotomous 1-0 scoring system (1 for a yes and 0 for a no answer) is used for some questions but for the majority a 3-point scoring system is used with 0.5 used also.

Is it factual or speculative?

The section of the whitepaper that describes the method for this study opens with the line:

There is no consensus on how to measure democracy. Definitions of democracy are contested, and

there is a lively debate on the subject.

Some of the questions asked have factual answers such as:

  1. Voter participation/turn-out for national elections.

(Average turnout in parliamentary elections since 2000. Turnout as a proportion of population of

voting age.)

1 if above 70%.

0.5 if 50%-70%.

0 if below 50%.

But some questions rely on opinion, for example:

  1. How pervasive is corruption?

1: Corruption is not a major problem.

0.5: Corruption is a significant issue.

0: Pervasive corruption exists.

This obviously means that there is some conjecture to the scores awarded for some questions and because of that, the final score can be considered partially speculative, however, the simplistic 3-point scoring system does allow for less variance than if a higher range of scores were available.

Could there be any Western bias associated with the data?

As details about the experts that answer the questions that are used to compile the democracy Index are not publicly available, we can not be sure about that part of the data however the fact that data from organisations such as Asian Barometer, Latin American Barometer and Afrobarometer is used suggests that non-Western sources are considered.




Human Rights Protections Score

How is it calculated?

It is generated using a dynamic ordinal item-response theory model which is described in detail here:


It is a way to apply a measurement model to the CIRI human rights dataset.

Is the data factual or speculative?

The CIRI data assigned a rating of 0-2 to human rights practices of governments around the world:

0= Frequent violations of this right

1= Some violations of this right

2= No reported violations of this right

As there is some interpretation involved the data could be considered to be partially speculative.

Could there be any Western bias associated with the data?

Primary sources for The CIRI database were annual country reports from the US State Department and Amnesty International so there could be a possibility of Western bias.





Equality Index

How is it calculated?

The score is calculated by aggregating scores based on the legal rights of LGBT people with regard to:

  • Homosexuality
  • Marriage
  • Changing Gender
  • Adoption
  • Discrimination
  • Employment Discrimination
  • Housing Discrimination
  • Military
  • Age of Consent
  • Donating Blood
  • Conversion Therapy

It takes into consideration whether or not each one is legal and the severity of punishment where applicable and assigns a score.

Is the data factual or speculative?

The data is based on the written laws of each country and therefore is can be considered factual.

Could there be any Western bias associated with the data?

As above, because the scores are based on the written laws of each country the data can be considered factual.



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