Fitzgibbon Survey of Scholarly Images

of Democracy in Latin America




2005 Survey

Criteria for Rankings

History of the Survey

Published Analyses

Data Downloads

About the Directors

Survey Participants

Contact Information



The following history was written by Phil Kelly as part of his article, “The Fitzgibbon Survey of Latin American Democracy: An Update of the 2000 Tabulations,” which appears on the Historical Text Archive.  It has been edited and updated by Joe Klesner. For references, see the Published Analyses tab on the left.

The origins of the Fitzgibbon Survey of Scholarly Images of Democracy in Latin America date back to 1945 when Professor Russell H. Fitzgibbon, a UCLA political scientist, asked a panel of ten distinguished U.S. Latin Americanist scholars to rank the twenty Latin American republics according to a set of criteria that he felt would measure the extent of democracy in each of the countries. His criteria for assessing the strength of democracy, fifteen in all, encompassed the following describers:

Educational Level


Standard of Living

Government Funds

Internal Unity

Social Legislation

Political Maturity

Civilian Supremacy

Freedom from Foreign Domination

Ecclesiastical Domination

Freedom of Press, etc.

Government administration

Free Elections

Local government

Party organization


On a five-point evaluation, panelists were to rate the republics separately according to each of the criteria, and the poll results were tallied later.

Fitzgibbon replicated his canvass at regular five-year intervals through 1970, adding more panelists than his original ten but maintaining the original fifteen criteria. Kenneth Johnson became associated with the project in 1960 and he assumed sole authorship of the 1975 and 1980 polls after Fitzgibbon's retirement. As the present director of the democracy project, Phil Kelly assisted Johnson in 1985 and administered the instrument alone for the three most recent evaluations, 1991, 1995, and 2000.  In 2005, Kelly asked Joseph Klesner to take over the administration of the survey, with Kelly continuing to serve as co-director for 2005.  In total, thirteen democracy surveys, taken every five years and all adhering to Fitzgibbon's original format, have been conducted since 1945. Eighty panelists contributed to the 2000 survey.

All three earlier project directors, Fitzgibbon, Johnson, and Kelly, experimented with the poll; most changes were tried only once and not continued. For example, Fitzgibbon gave certain criteria more weight than other criteria, and he also attempted a "self-assessment as to the respondent's familiarity with both [Latin American] states and [the fifteen] criteria" (Fitzgibbon 1967, 155).  Both attempts were inconclusive and dropped. Likewise, Fitzgibbon tested for statistical associations between the democracy scales and an assortment of national attributes, but he found none. Johnson composed a separate political scale drawn from five "select criteria" among the total fifteen (Fitzgibbon 1976, 131-132), and he and Miles Williams created a "Power Index" that sought to measure various groups' impact on politics (Johnson and Williams 1978, 37-47). But again, neither innovation was kept. Nor did a later "Attitudinal Profile" of panel respondents' backgrounds by Johnson and Kelly enjoy long life. In sum, Fitzgibbon's original 1945 survey has continued for the past fifty-five years without significant adjustment.

The most notable legacy of the Fitzgibbon democracy survey is its long life, sixty years and thirteen different polls since 1945. No other surveys can boast of such longevity and repetition over a time span that has seen so many changes and perhaps improvements in democracy and government in Latin America. Also, this survey is the only panel-of-experts technique for gauging the extent of democracy, as other assessments of democracy rely on census and other secondary statistical data or a variety of subjective measures. As stated by Fitzgibbon, "[Panel] Specialists are likely to introduce desirable nuances and balances which are impossible in the use of cold statistical information, even of the most accurate sort" (Fitzgibbon 1967, 135). In addition, the canvass possesses both conceptual and operational definitions of democracy, the former rendered in the fifteen criteria and the latter in the survey method itself, such that ordinal and interval data measurements become available and hence statistical analysis can be performed between the democracy ranking scales and an assortment of independent variables. Finally, despite the absence of major overhauling of the project's approaches since 1945, the panel procedure remains open to adjustment and to replication by others (Kelly 1998, 3-11).