Varieties of Democracy data, Version 3 (December 2014) The data come from surveys of experts on the country and measure government attempts to censor print and broadcast media and information on the Internet, as well as the extent to which each national election has been free and fair.

It takes more than voting to make a democracy—something the 2012 election of Vladimir Putin as Russian president made plain when international observers raised charges of election irregularities. That's a distinction that Case Western Reserve's Kelly McMann knows well. She studies the fault lines between successful democracies and countries where democratizing efforts fail.

McMann, PhD, associate professor of political science and director of the university's international studies program, is a specialist in Russia and Central Asia and an expert on the subnational influences on democracy, exploring the difference between what is said in the capital and what exists in the heartland.

She's also a project manager with an international effort measuring how well democracy has taken hold across the globe. That effort, the Varieties of Democracy project, is a worldwide research collaboration that collects decades of data for every country in the world, using 329 indicators of democracy such as independence of the judiciary, media freedom, female empowerment and educational equality.

Taken together, these measurements allow scholars and policymakers to see whether a country is stably democratic, or whether it's likely to slip back toward authoritarianism, as Russia eventually did.

Although data collection is not complete, the Varieties of Democracy website ( does show how some countries rank for a number of variables. Hosted by the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and the Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, the project could help policymakers understand how deep the roots of democracy reach in any given country, and provide researchers with invaluable clues about why democracy thrives in one place and not another.

"Becoming fully democratic is a gradual process," said McMann, author of Economic Autonomy and Democracy: Hybrid Regimes in Russia and Kyrgyzstan (Cambridge University Press, 2006), which explores this process, and Corruption as a Last Resort: Adapting to the Market in Central Asia (Cornell University Press, 2014). "There's not a tipping point, and often it's a process of one step forward and two steps back."

In McMann's own research, she has seen where democracy failed to take hold in some regions of Russia as the nation struggled to create a new form of governance.

"I found regional pockets where people's livelihoods were closely tied to local officials and, with that economic dependence, people were too scared to exercise new democratic rights even though they existed on paper," she said.

Putin's ability to manage Russia's economy, which led to improved living standards for many Russians, played an important role in his continued popularity. "Up until the recent drop in oil prices, Russians have been very content living with much better economic conditions than they had previously. When you're enjoying life, it's easy not to be as concerned about political rights," she said.

—Jenni Laidman

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