Reassessing the Three Waves of Democratization

Since the publication of Samuel Huntington's 1991 study of democratization, scholars have come to take for granted the notion that the spread of democracy has come in waves. Although Huntington's work has clearly proved to be an influential study, this article suggests that his analysis is far from compelling. There are two problems embodied in the work. The first is largely conceptual. Huntington's analysis fails to provide a clear and meaningful distinction between democratic and authoritarian regimes because it focuses primarily on what Dahl had defined in 1971 as the dimension of competition and pays insufficient attention to the equally important dimension of inclusion. The second problem is more empirical. Huntington has estimated the incidence of transitions to democracy in terms of the percentages of world states involved. Since the denominator in this equation, that is, the number of states in the world, is far from constant, this measure can be misleading. This article proposes solutions to both of these problems, and this new approach leads to conclusions that are quite different from Huntington's.