Using a Bayesian latent variable approach, we synthesize a new measure of democracy, the Unified Democracy Scores (UDS), from 10 extant scales. Our measure eschews the difficult—and often arbitrary—decision to use one existing democracy scale over another in favor of a cumulative approach that allows us to simultaneously leverage the measurement efforts of numerous scholars. The result of this cumulative approach is a measure of democracy that, for every country-year, is at least as reliable as the most reliable component measure and is accompanied by quantitative estimates of uncertainty in the level of democracy. Moreover, for those who wish to continue using previously existing scales or to evaluate research performed using those scales, we extract information from the new measure to perform heretofore impossible direct comparisons between component scales. Specifically, we estimate the relative reliability of the constituent indicators, compare the specific ordinal levels of each of the existing measures in relationship to one another and assess overall levels of disagreement across raters. We make the UDS and associated parameter estimates freely available online and provide a detailed tutorial that demonstrates how to best use the UDS in applied work.
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