There has been contradicting evidence on whether being a democratic state is correlated with economic growth and/or higher GDP per capita. For instance, Barro (1997) argues in his book that a democratic transition and providing the public with more political rights do not lead to higher economic growth per se. More recent literature by Acemoglu et al. (2019) challenges Barro's view and suggests that becoming a democracy is associated with higher GDP per capita in the long-run. The paper's findings are based on data 175 countries between 1960 to 2010,

I ran the same correlation between using aggregate log GDP and democracy but with 184 countries and using data from 2010 onwards until 2019. However, I used democracy index by the EIU. I found no apparent relationship between the two indicators, and I am curious what might be causing this? For instance, one explanation might be the typical measurement error/drawbacks of relying heavily on democratic score indices such as the one used here or by Acemoglu et al. (2019). Another hypothesis is that the world has changed drastically in the past decade, and specifically the economic rapid rise of high growth brutal autocracies such as China, UAE, Singapore, etc might be causing us to observe this small correlation between the two measures (i.e. log GDP and democracy).

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  • 2
    There is evidence that suggests China is lying about its economic growth voanews.com/a/… Not to mention there have been reports of ghost cities that have been developed but little to none live there. businessinsider.com/…
    – Joe W
    Feb 22 at 16:00
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    Can you make clearer what exactly you are asking? Are you interested in a critique of your research methods (such as comparing different democracy indizes) or are you interested in an explanation why autocracies might experience higher economic growth?
    – xyldke
    Feb 22 at 16:15
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    I would not use the GDP but the GDP per person. If the size of the country is interesting I would rather use the population than the GDP. Feb 22 at 18:10
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    @Trilarion That is a good point though there are a few countries with a really small population that can skew the numbers. Based on 2017 data china is 79th in GPS per capita and that is before factoring in the cost of living. worldometers.info/gdp/gdp-per-capita
    – Joe W
    Feb 22 at 19:28
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    How exactly are you turning "data from 2010 onwards until 2019" into a single "log GDP" value (per country)?
    – Fizz
    Feb 23 at 16:24

2 Answers 2


Your graph is fairly meaningless, since you have plotted GDP, and not GDP per capita.

This means that the richest country appears to be "China". China has the largest GDP, but mostly because it is so populous. Luxembourg is far richer than China, per person, but as it's population is so small, it seems to be a poor country.

If you use GDP per capita (PPP) you get a graph like this

This shows roughly three groups: Poor countries: these have democracy scores between 1 and 7 and very low incomes. There is little correlation for this group. Liberal democracies countries: These have democracy values from 6 to 10 and a clear correlation, merging with the poor countries at one end. Oil rich countries: These form a scattering of points with democracy values between 2 and 9, but much richer than other countries with similar democracy values.

So a correlation exists, for countries that are no the poorest.

enter image description here

  • If it is not too much asked, could you name a few of the very poor but also very democratic countries, i.e. x axis > 6 and y axis < 10000. Feb 22 at 21:50
  • Duh. I thought the OP was regressing on GDP growth, which is what most of the studies in this area are doing. That the richest countries (per capita) are democracies is so obvious that no such studies are publishable (as research).
    – Fizz
    Feb 22 at 21:55
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    Those are countries like Cape Verde, East Timor, Jamaica, Ghana, India is in the same region too. @Trilarion
    – James K
    Feb 22 at 22:42
  • @JamesK agreed, the more meaningful way to look at this is GDP per capita. What year did you use for this visualization?
    – GECONN
    Jun 18 at 17:39
  • I think it was 2021, but it shouldn't make much difference. GDP per capita and democracy indices are not very volatile
    – James K
    Jun 19 at 17:03

As James K noted, a more meaningful comparison is between Democracy Index and GDP per Capita. I just wanted to build on his answer with a little more data and a chart that also incorporates population visually (bubble size) across time. See this visualization, note that you can...

  • View this comparison for the years 2006, 2008, 2010 - 2022,
  • Export the data as a CSV or JSON,
  • See and explore data sources on the left,
  • And click each country to dive into more country-specific metrics.

Here's a screenshot for those metrics in 2020:

2020 GDP per Capita vs Democracy Index vs Population

Full disclosure I am one of the founders of this project but this is exactly the type of geopolitical data we want to make easy to explore!

  • 1
    One of the potential issues with such charts is that the position on the democracy index is not always stable over time. If the claim is that long run GDP/person is higher in democracies, then you need to take into account for how long the country has been a democracy as well as its current state. So an even more convincing analysis would compare growth over periods where the democracy index changed significantly.
    – matt_black
    Jun 20 at 19:15
  • That's an interesting idea, so in a regression model with GDP per capita as as the outcome/Y variable, you would add "duration_as_democracy" as a control variable? @matt_black Jun 21 at 21:55
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    @nesta1992 Possibly. Or runs some sort of interrupted time series analysis relative looking at GDP or GDP growth before and after a significant change in democracy index.
    – matt_black
    Jun 22 at 10:06

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