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About Freedom in the World

What the Survey measures

The Freedom in the World survey, which has been published since 1972, is an annual evaluation of the state of freedom in every country in the world. The survey divides freedom into two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. Political rights allow people to join political parties and organizations, compete for public office, vote freely for distinct alternative candidates in legitimate elections, and elect representatives who have a real impact on public policies and are accountable to voters. Civil liberties allow for the freedoms of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy, including economic freedom, without interference from the state.

The standards that Freedom in the World uses to measure freedom are based largely on the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that represents the first global expression of rights to which everyone is entitled. These standards are applied to all countries, regardless of their geographical location, ethnic or religious composition, culture, or level of economic development.

Freedom can be affected by both the government and nongovernmental forces, including armed rebel groups, organized crime, and powerful business interests. Therefore, Freedom in the World measures the real-world rights enjoyed by individuals, rather than just the attitude or performance of governments.

Finally, Freedom in the World considers both legal guarantees of rights and the real-world expression of these rights — or practices — when measuring freedom. However, since repressive governments often adopt laws that protect political rights and civil liberties but fail to fully implement them, Freedom in the World places greater importance on actual practices than on laws when measuring freedom.

Ratings Process

The survey includes both analytical reports and numerical ratings for 193 countries (as well as a select group of territories). The ratings are based on points awarded for each of 25 questions, which are divided into 10 questions on political rights and 15 questions on civil liberties. The topics of these questions include independence of the media, religious freedom, corruption, the right of political parties to function, independence of the judicial system, and women's rights. There are several steps in the ratings process:

  • First, for each of the 25 questions, the country in question is awarded 0 to 4 points, with 0 representing the worst possible conditions and 4 representing the best.
  • Second, all of the points are added up to obtain a total for political rights and a total for civil liberties.
  • Third, the country is assigned two numerical ratings — on a scale of 1 to 7 — based on the totals for political rights and civil liberties. For example, a country that receives between 36 and 40 total points for the 10 political rights questions would get a political rights rating of 1, while a country that receives between 30 and 35 total points would get a rating of 2. A rating of 1 indicates the highest level of freedom and 7 the lowest level of freedom.
  • Fourth, the political rights and civil liberties ratings are averaged to determine whether a country is classified as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. Countries whose two ratings average between 1.0 and 2.5 are Free, those between 3.0 and 5.0 are Partly Free, and those between 5.5 and 7.0 are Not Free. A designation of Free does not mean that a country enjoys perfect freedom or lacks serious problems. It simply indicates that the country enjoys more freedom than Partly Free and Not Free (and sometimes other Free) countries.

Characteristics of Each Political Rights And Civil Liberties Rating

Political Rights

Rating of 1 – Countries with a rating of 1 enjoy a wide range of political rights, including free and fair elections. Candidates who are elected actually rule, political parties are competitive, the opposition plays an important role and enjoys real power, and minority groups have reasonable self-government or can participate in the government through informal consensus.

Rating of 2 – Countries with a rating of 2 have slightly weaker political rights than those with a rating of 1 because of such factors as some political corruption, limits on the functioning of political parties and opposition groups, and foreign or military influence on politics.

Ratings of 3, 4, or 5 – Countries with a rating of 3, 4, or 5 include those that moderately protect almost all political rights and those that more strongly protect some political rights while less strongly protecting others. The same factors that undermine freedom in countries with a rating of 2 may also weaken political rights in those with a rating of 3, 4, or 5, but to a greater extent at each successive rating.

Rating of 6 – Countries with a rating of 6 have heavily restricted political rights. They are ruled by one-party or military dictatorships, religious hierarchies, or autocrats. They may allow a few political rights, such as some representation or autonomy for minority groups, and a few are traditional monarchies that tolerate political discussion and accept public petitions.

Rating of 7 – Countries with a rating of 7 have few or no political rights because of severe government oppression, sometimes in combination with civil war. They may also lack an authoritative and functioning central government and suffer from extreme violence or warlord rule that dominates political power.

Civil Liberties

Rating of 1 – Countries with a rating of 1 enjoy a wide range of civil liberties, including freedoms of expression, assembly, association, education, and religion. They have an established and generally fair legal system (including an independent judiciary), allow free economic activity, and tend to strive for equality of opportunity for everyone, including women and minority groups.

Rating of 2 – Countries with a rating of 2 have slightly weaker civil liberties than those with a rating of 1 because of such factors as some limits on media independence, restrictions on trade union activities, and discrimination against minority groups and women.

Ratings of 3, 4, or 5 – Countries with a rating of 3, 4, or 5 include those that moderately protect almost all civil liberties and those that more strongly protect some civil liberties while less strongly protecting others. The same factors that undermine freedom in countries with a rating of 2 may also weaken civil liberties in those with a rating of 3, 4, or 5, but to a greater extent at each successive rating.

Rating of 6 – Countries with a rating of 6 have heavily restricted civil liberties. They strongly limit the rights of expression and association, and there are almost always political prisoners. They may allow a few civil liberties, such as some religious and social freedoms, some highly restricted private business activity, and relatively free private discussion.

Rating of 7 – Countries with a rating of 7 have few or no civil liberties. They allow virtually no freedom of expression or association, law enforcement officials do not protect the rights of detainees and prisoners, and the state controls or dominates most economic activity.