Freedom in the World Research Methodology
Freedom in the World is an annual global report on political rights and civil liberties, composed of numerical ratings and descriptive texts for each country and a select group of territories.
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Freedom in the World 2023 Methodology
Freedom in the World is an annual global report on political rights and civil liberties, composed of numerical ratings and descriptive texts for each country and a select group of territories. The 2023 edition covers developments in 195 countries and 15 territories from January 1, 2022, through December 31, 2022.
The report’s methodology is derived in large measure from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. Freedom in the World is based on the premise that these standards apply to all countries and territories, irrespective of geographical location, ethnic or religious composition, or level of economic development. Freedom in the World operates from the assumption that freedom for all people is best achieved in liberal democratic societies.
Freedom in the World assesses the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals, rather than governments or government performance per se. Political rights and civil liberties can be affected by both state and nonstate actors, including insurgents and other armed groups.
Freedom House does not believe that legal guarantees of rights are sufficient for on-the-ground fulfillment of those rights. While both laws and actual practices are factored into scoring decisions, greater emphasis is placed on implementation.
Territories are selected for assessment in Freedom in the World based on the following criteria: whether the area is governed separately from the rest of the relevant country or countries, either de jure or de facto; whether conditions on the ground for political rights and civil liberties are significantly different from those in the rest of the relevant country or countries, meaning a separate assessment is likely to yield different ratings; whether the territory is the subject of enduring popular or diplomatic pressure for autonomy, independence, or incorporation into another country; whether the territory’s boundaries are sufficiently stable to allow an assessment of conditions for the year under review, and whether they can be expected to remain stable in future years so that year-on-year comparisons are possible; and whether the territory is large and/or politically significant. Freedom House typically takes no position on territorial or separatist disputes as such, focusing instead on the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area.
History of Freedom in the World
Freedom House’s first year-end reviews of freedom began in the 1950s as the Balance Sheet of Freedom. This modest report provided assessments of political trends and their implications for individual freedom. In 1972, Freedom House launched a new, more comprehensive annual study called The Comparative Study of Freedom. Raymond Gastil, a Harvard-trained specialist in regional studies from the University of Washington in Seattle, developed the methodology, which assigned political rights and civil liberties ratings to 151 countries and 45 territories and categorized them as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. The findings appeared each year in Freedom House’s bimonthly journal Freedom at Issue (later titled Freedom Review). Freedom in the World first appeared in book form in 1978 and included short narratives for each country and territory rated in the study, as well as a series of essays by leading scholars on related issues. Freedom in the World continued to be produced by Gastil until 1989, when a larger team of in-house analysts was established. In the mid-1990s, the expansion of the country and territory narratives necessitated the hiring of outside analysts—a group of regional experts from the academic, media, and human rights communities—and the project has continued to grow in size and scope in the years since.
A number of modest updates have been made to the methodology over time to adapt to evolving ideas about political rights and civil liberties. These changes are introduced incrementally in order to ensure the comparability of the ratings from year to year. Occasionally, language has been updated to explain more precisely what conditions are being assessed
A structural change affecting a very small number of countries, beginning with the 2018 edition of Freedom in the World, was the elimination of Additional Discretionary Political Rights Question A. This indicator had awarded points to traditional monarchies that had no political parties or significant electoral processes but provided for some form of consultation with the public. Such consultation is now addressed elsewhere in the methodology.
Also beginning with the 2018 edition, countries require an overall Civil Liberties score of 30 or better—in addition to a score of 7 or better in subcategory A (Electoral Process), and an overall Political Rights score of 20 or better—to qualify as an electoral democracy.
Research and Ratings Review Process
Freedom in the World is produced each year by a team of in-house and external analysts and expert advisers from the academic, think tank, and human rights communities. The 2023 edition involved 128 analysts, and around 40 advisers. The analysts, who prepare the draft reports and scores, use a broad range of sources, including news articles, academic analyses, reports from nongovernmental organizations, individual professional contacts, and on-the-ground research. The analysts score countries and territories based on the conditions and events within their borders during the coverage period. The analysts’ proposed scores are discussed and defended at a series of review meetings, organized by region and attended by Freedom House staff and a panel of expert advisers. The end product represents the consensus of the analysts, outside advisers, and Freedom House staff, who are responsible for any final decisions. Although an element of subjectivity is unavoidable in such an enterprise, the ratings process emphasizes methodological consistency, intellectual rigor, and balanced and unbiased judgments.
Freedom in the World uses a two-tiered system consisting of scores and status. The complete list of the questions used in the scoring process, and the tables for converting scores to status, appear at the end of this essay.
Scores – A country or territory is awarded 0 to 4 points for each of 10 political rights indicators and 15 civil liberties indicators, which take the form of questions; a score of 0 represents the smallest degree of freedom and 4 the greatest degree of freedom. The political rights questions are grouped into three subcategories: Electoral Process (3 questions), Political Pluralism and Participation (4), and Functioning of Government (3). The civil liberties questions are grouped into four subcategories: Freedom of Expression and Belief (4 questions), Associational and Organizational Rights (3), Rule of Law (4), and Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights (4). The political rights section also contains an additional discretionary question addressing forced demographic change. For the discretionary question, a score of 1 to 4 may be subtracted, as applicable (the worse the situation, the more points may be subtracted). The highest overall score that can be awarded for political rights is 40 (or a score of 4 for each of the 10 questions). The highest overall score that can be awarded for civil liberties is 60 (or a score of 4 for each of the 15 questions). The scores from the previous edition are used as a benchmark for the current year under review. A score is typically changed only if there has been a real-world development during the year that warrants a decline or improvement (e.g., a crackdown on the media, the country’s first free and fair elections), though gradual changes in conditions—in the absence of a signal event—are occasionally registered in the scores.
Free, Partly Free, Not Free Status – The combination of the overall score awarded for political rights and the overall score awarded for civil liberties, after being equally weighted, determines the status of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free (see table below).
Electoral Democracy – Freedom in the World assigns the designation “electoral democracy” to countries that have met certain minimum standards for political rights and civil liberties; territories are not included in the list of electoral democracies. According to the methodology, an electoral democracy designation requires a score of 7 or better in the Electoral Process subcategory, an overall political rights score of 20 or better, and an overall civil liberties score of 30 or better. These thresholds reflect the fact that a democratic electoral system requires not just fair balloting procedures and basic political competition, but also some respect for the rule of law and civil liberties such as freedom of assembly. Freedom House’s “electoral democracy” designation should not be equated with “liberal democracy,” a term that implies a more robust observance of democratic ideals and a wider array of civil liberties. In Freedom in the World, most Free countries could be considered liberal democracies, while some Partly Free countries might qualify as electoral, but not liberal, democracies.
Prior to the 2020 edition, Freedom in the World assigned a country or territory two ratings—one for political rights and one for civil liberties—based on its total scores for the political rights and civil liberties questions. Each rating of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the greatest degree of freedom and 7 the smallest degree of freedom, corresponded to a specific range of total scores. The average of the ratings determined the status of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. While the underlying formula for converting scores into status remains identical, starting in the 2020 edition Freedom in the World no longer presented the 1–7 ratings as a separate element of its findings. The ratings are still included in the raw data available for download.
Because the designations of Free, Partly Free, and Not Free each cover a broad swath of the available scores, countries or territories within any one category, especially those at either end of the range, can have quite different human rights situations. For example, those at the lowest end of the Free category (with lower political rights or civil liberties scores) differ from those at the upper end of the Free group (with higher political rights or civil liberties scores). Also, a designation of Free does not mean that a country or territory enjoys perfect freedom or lacks serious problems, only that it enjoys comparatively more freedom than those rated Partly Free or Not Free (and some others rated Free).
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF
D1. Are there free and independent media? (Note: “Media” refers to all relevant sources of news and commentary—including formal print, broadcast, and online news outlets, as well as social media and communication applications when they are used to gather or disseminate news and commentary for the general public. The question also applies to artistic works in any medium.)
- Are the media directly or indirectly censored?
- Is self-censorship common among journalists (the term includes professional journalists, bloggers, and citizen journalists), especially when reporting on sensitive issues, including politics, social controversies, corruption, or the activities of powerful individuals?
- Are journalists subject to pressure or surveillance aimed at identifying their sources?
- Are libel, blasphemy, security, or other restrictive laws used to punish journalists who scrutinize government officials and policies or other powerful entities through either onerous fines or imprisonment?
- Is it a crime to insult the honor and dignity of the president and/or other government officials? How broad is the range of such prohibitions, and how vigorously are they enforced?
- If media outlets are dependent on the government for their financial survival, does the government condition funding on the outlets’ cooperation in promoting official points of view and/or denying access to opposition parties and civic critics? Do powerful private actors engage in similar practices?
- Do the owners of private media exert improper editorial control over journalists or publishers, skewing news coverage to suit their personal business or political interests?
- Is media coverage excessively partisan, with the majority of outlets consistently favoring either side of the political spectrum?
- Does the government attempt to influence media content and access through means including politically motivated awarding or suspension of broadcast frequencies and newspaper registrations, unfair control and influence over printing facilities and distribution networks, blackouts of internet or mobile service, selective distribution of advertising, onerous operating requirements, prohibitive tariffs, and bribery?
- Are journalists threatened, harassed online, arrested, imprisoned, beaten, or killed by government or nonstate actors for their legitimate journalistic activities, and if such cases occur, are they investigated and prosecuted fairly and expeditiously?
- Do women journalists encounter gender-specific obstacles to carrying out their work, including threats of sexual violence or strict gender segregation?
- Are works of literature, art, music, or other forms of cultural expression censored or banned for political purposes?
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
- Are registration requirements employed to impede the free functioning of religious institutions?
- Are members of religious groups, including minority faiths and movements, harassed, fined, arrested, or beaten by the authorities for engaging in their religious practices?
- Is state monitoring of peaceful religious activity so indiscriminate, pervasive, or intrusive that it amounts to harassment or intimidation?
- Are religious practice and expression impeded by violence or harassment by nonstate actors?
- Does the government appoint or otherwise influence the appointment of religious leaders?
- Does the government control or restrict the production and distribution of religious writings or materials?
- Is the construction of religious buildings banned or restricted?
- Does the government place undue restrictions on religious education? Does the government require religious education?
- Are individuals free to eschew religious beliefs and practices in general?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
- Are teachers and professors at both public and private institutions free to pursue academic activities of a political and quasi-political nature without fear of physical violence or intimidation by state or nonstate actors?
- Does the government pressure, strongly influence, or control the content of school curriculums for political purposes?
- Is the allocation of funding for public educational institutions free from political manipulation?
- Are student associations that address issues of a political nature allowed to function freely?
- Does the government, including through school administration or other officials, pressure students and/or teachers to support certain political figures or agendas, including by requiring them to attend political rallies or vote for certain candidates? Conversely, does the government, including through school administration or other officials, discourage or forbid students and/or teachers from supporting certain candidates and parties?
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
- Are people able to engage in private discussions, particularly of a political nature, in public, semipublic, or private places—including restaurants, public transportation, and their homes, in person or on the telephone—without fear of harassment or detention by the authorities or nonstate actors?
- Do users of personal online communications—including direct messages, voice or video applications, or social media accounts with a limited audience—face legal penalties, harassment, or violence from the government or powerful nonstate actors in retaliation for critical remarks?
- Does the government employ people or groups to engage in public surveillance and to report alleged antigovernment conversations to the authorities?
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS
E1. Is there freedom of assembly?
- Are peaceful protests, particularly those of a political nature, banned or severely restricted?
- Are the legal requirements to obtain permission to hold peaceful demonstrations particularly cumbersome or time-consuming?
- Are participants in peaceful demonstrations intimidated, arrested, or assaulted?
- Are peaceful protesters detained by police in order to prevent them from engaging in such actions?
- Are organizers blocked from using online media to plan or carry out a protest, for example through DDoS attacks or wholesale blackouts of internet or mobile services?
- Are similar restrictions and obstacles used to impede other public events, such as conferences, panel discussions, and town hall–style meetings?
- Are public petitions, in which citizens gather signatures to support a particular policy or initiative, banned or severely restricted?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? (Note: This includes civic organizations, interest groups, foundations, think tanks, gender rights groups, etc.)
- Are registration and other legal requirements for nongovernmental organizations particularly onerous or intended to prevent them from functioning freely?
- Are laws related to the financing of nongovernmental organizations unduly complicated and cumbersome, or are there obstacles to citizens raising money for charitable causes or civic activism?
- Are donors and funders of nongovernmental organizations free from government pressure?
- Are members of nongovernmental organizations intimidated, arrested, imprisoned, or assaulted because of their work?
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
- Are trade unions allowed to be established and to operate without government interference?
- Are workers pressured by the government or employers to join or not to join certain trade unions, and do they face harassment, violence, or dismissal from their jobs if they fail to comply?
- Are workers permitted to engage in strikes, and do participants in peaceful strikes face reprisals? (Note: This question may not apply to workers in narrowly defined essential government services or public safety jobs.)
- Are unions able to bargain collectively with employers and negotiate agreements that are honored in practice?
- For states with primarily agricultural economies that do not necessarily support the formation of trade unions, does the government allow for the establishment of agricultural workers’ organizations or their equivalents? Is there legislation expressly forbidding the formation of trade unions?
- Are professional organizations, including business associations, allowed to operate freely and without government interference?
F. RULE OF LAW
F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
- Is the judiciary subject to interference from the executive branch of government or from other political, economic, or religious influences?
- Are judges appointed and dismissed in a fair and unbiased manner?
- Do judges rule fairly and impartially, or do they commonly render verdicts that favor the government or particular interests, whether in return for bribes or for other reasons?
- Do executive, legislative, and other governmental authorities comply with judicial decisions, and are these decisions effectively enforced?
- Do powerful private entities comply with judicial decisions, and are decisions that run counter to the interests of powerful actors effectively enforced?
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
- Are defendants’ rights, including the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, protected?
- Do detainees have access to independent, competent legal counsel regardless of their financial means?
- Are defendants given a fair, public, and timely hearing by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal?
- Is access to the court system in general dependent on an individual’s financial means?
- Are prosecutors independent of political control and influence?
- Are prosecutors independent of powerful private interests, whether legal or illegal?
- Do law enforcement and other security officials operate professionally, independently, and accountably?
- Do law enforcement officials make arbitrary arrests and detentions without warrants, or fabricate or plant evidence on suspects?
- Do law enforcement and other security officials fail to uphold due process because of influence by nonstate actors, including organized crime, powerful commercial interests, or other groups?
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
- Do law enforcement officials beat detainees during arrest or use excessive force or torture to extract confessions?
- Are conditions in pretrial detention facilities and prisons humane and respectful of the human dignity of inmates?
- Do citizens have the means of effective petition and redress when they suffer physical abuse by state authorities?
- Does the law allow corporal punishment, and are such penalties employed in practice?
- In countries that allow the death penalty, is it applied for crimes other than murder or in a manner that violates basic standards of justice?
- Is violent crime common, either in particular areas or among the general population?
- Is the population subjected to physical harm, forced removal, or other acts of violence or terror due to civil conflict or war?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
- Are members of various distinct groups—including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups—able to effectively exercise their human rights with full equality before the law?
- Is violence against such groups considered a crime, is it widespread, and are perpetrators brought to justice?
- Do members of such groups face legal and/or de facto discrimination in areas including employment, education, and housing because of their identification with a particular group?
- Do noncitizens—including migrant workers and noncitizen immigrants—enjoy basic internationally recognized human rights, including the right not to be subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment, the right to due process of law, and the freedoms of association, expression, and religion?
- Do the country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and other regional treaties regarding refugees? Has the government established a system for providing protection to refugees, including against refoulement (the return of persons to a country where there is reason to believe they would face persecution)?
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
- Are there restrictions on foreign travel, including an exit visa system, which may be enforced selectively?
- Is permission required from the authorities or nonstate actors to move within the country?
- Do state or nonstate actors control or constrain a person’s ability to change their type and place of employment?
- Are bribes or other inducements needed to obtain the necessary documents to travel, change one’s place of residence or employment, enter institutions of higher education, or advance in school?
- Is freedom of movement impaired by general threats to physical safety, such as armed conflict? Do such threats lead to forced displacement?
- Do women enjoy the same freedom of movement as men?
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
- Are people legally allowed to purchase and sell land and other property, and can they do so in practice without undue interference from the government or nonstate actors?
- Do women face discrimination in property and inheritance rights?
- Is fair business competition heavily skewed by political favoritism, cronyism, or other improper interference?
- Are individuals protected from arbitrary expropriation, and do they receive adequate and timely compensation when property is seized?
- Are people legally allowed to establish and operate private businesses with a reasonable minimum of registration, licensing, and other requirements?
- Are bribes or other inducements needed to obtain the necessary legal documents to operate private businesses?
- Do private/nonstate actors, including criminal groups, seriously impede private business activities through such measures as extortion?
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
- Are personalized forms of violence—including domestic violence, female genital mutilation/cutting, sexual abuse, and rape—widespread, and are perpetrators brought to justice?
- Does the government directly or indirectly control choice of marriage partner or other personal relationships through means such as bans on interfaith marriages, failure to enforce laws against child marriage or dowry payments, restrictions on same-sex relationships, or criminalization of extramarital sex?
- Do individuals enjoy equal rights in divorce proceedings and child custody matters?
- Do citizenship or residency rules undermine family integrity through excessively high or discriminatory barriers for foreign spouses or transmission of citizenship to children?
- Does the government determine the number of children that a couple may have, including by denying access to or imposing birth control, or by criminalizing or imposing abortion?
- Does the government restrict individuals’ choice of dress, appearance, or gender expression?
- Do private institutions or individuals, including religious groups or family members, unduly infringe on the personal social freedoms of individuals, including choice of marriage partner, family size, dress, gender expression, etc.?
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
- Do state or private employers exploit their workers through practices including unfairly withholding wages, permitting or forcing employees to work under unacceptably dangerous conditions, or adult slave labor and child labor?
- Does tight government control over the economy, including through state ownership or the setting of prices and production quotas, inhibit individuals’ economic opportunity?
- Do the revenues from large state industries, including the energy sector, benefit the general population or only a privileged few?
- Do private interests exert undue influence on the economy—through monopolistic practices, concentration of ownership, cartels, or illegal blacklists—that impedes economic opportunity for the general population?
- Do laws, policies, or persistent socioeconomic conditions effectively impose rigid barriers to social mobility, generally preventing individuals from rising to higher income levels over the course of their lives?
- Is the trafficking of persons for labor, sexual exploitation, forced begging, etc., widespread, and is the government taking adequate steps to address the problem?
Key to Scores and Status
A country or territory’s Freedom in the World status depends on its aggregate Political Rights score, on a scale of 0–40, and its aggregate Civil Liberties score, on a scale of 0–60. The total Political Rights and Civil Liberties scores are equally weighted in this calculation, leading to the following possible ranges.
KEY: F = Free, PF = Partly Free, and NF = Not Free
* It is possible for a country or territory’s total political rights score to be less than zero (between –1 and –4) if it receives mostly or all zeros for each of the 10 political rights questions and it receives a sufficiently large negative score for the political rights discretionary question.