Sometimes it seems bad countries come with long names. North Korea is “People’s Democratic Republic of Korea”, Libya is “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”, and the like. But on the other hand, there’s plenty of counter-examples — it’s the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” and “Republic of Cuba”, after all. Do long names with good-sounding adjectives correspond with non-democratic governments?
Fortunately, this can be tested. First, what words are out there? From the CIA Factbook’s data on long form names, here are some of the most popular words used by today’s countries, listed with the number of occurrences across all 194 names. I limited to tokens that appear >= 3 times. A majority of countries are Republics, while there are some Kingdoms, and even a few Democracies.
(146 of) (127 Republic) (17 Kingdom) (8 the) (8 Democratic) (6 State) (6 People’s) (5 United) (4 and) (4 Islamic) (4 Arab) (3 States) (3 Socialist) (3 Principality) (3 Islands) (3 Guinea) (3 Federal) (3 Commonwealth)
Now, we can group countries by included words and look at how democratic they are, as according to Freedom House‘s political rights scores. They look at a number of political freedoms — free elections, ability to run for office, power sharing, lack of military intervention in government, etc. to formulate the rating. The following chart shows the average political rights score per group of countries with the given word (actually, substring) in its name.
The upper rows show a substring and the number of names that are matched by it, and the average PR score. (These groups occasionally overlap.) The lower rows are several example countries for reference. So Republics are ever so slightly less democratic than your average non-Republic, and also amusingly, Kingdoms edge them out too. But Democratic, People’s, Socialist, Islamic and Arab countries are definitely the big-time un-democracies, while the only clear winners on the other side are Commonwealths and Principalities. Here are the members of the smaller groups:
Score Name /kingdom/ 1 Kingdom of Belgium 1 Kingdom of Denmark 1 Kingdom of the Netherlands 1 Kingdom of Norway 1 Kingdom of Spain 1 Kingdom of Sweden 1 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 2 Kingdom of Lesotho 5 Kingdom of Tonga 5 Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan 5 Kingdom of Morocco 5 Kingdom of Bahrain 6 Kingdom of Bhutan 6 Kingdom of Cambodia 7 Kingdom of Thailand 7 Kingdom of Swaziland 7 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia /democ/ 2 Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe 3 Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste 4 Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka 5 Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia 6 People's Democratic Republic of Algeria 5 Democratic Republic of the Congo 7 Lao People's Democratic Republic 7 Democratic People's Republic of Korea /state/ 1 Federated States of Micronesia 1 United States of America 1 State of Israel 2 Independent State of Samoa 2 United Mexican States 3 Independent State of Papua New Guinea 4 State of Kuwait 6 State of Qatar 7 State of Eritrea /feder/ 1 Federal Republic of Germany 1 Federated States of Micronesia 1 Swiss Confederation 2 Federative Republic of Brazil 4 Federal Republic of Nigeria 5 Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia 6 Russian Federation /people/ 4 People's Republic of Bangladesh 6 People's Democratic Republic of Algeria 7 People's Republic of China 7 Lao People's Democratic Republic 7 Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya 7 Democratic People's Republic of Korea /arab/ 6 Arab Republic of Egypt 6 United Arab Emirates 7 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 7 Syrian Arab Republic 7 Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya /united/ 1 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1 United States of America 2 United Mexican States 4 United Republic of Tanzania 6 United Arab Emirates /islam/ 5 Islamic Republic of Mauritania 5 Islamic Republic of Afghanistan 6 Islamic Republic of Pakistan 6 Islamic Republic of Iran /commonwealth/ 1 Commonwealth of Australia 1 Commonwealth of The Bahamas 1 Commonwealth of Dominica /island/ 1 Republic of the Marshall Islands 4 Solomon Islands 6 Republic of the Fiji Islands /principality/ 1 Principality of Andorra 1 Principality of Liechtenstein 2 Principality of Monaco /social/ 4 Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka 7 Socialist Republic of Vietnam 7 Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
I just think it’s striking there’s such a small set of words used to describe countries, and that so many use “Republic”. It speaks to (some sort of) triumph of liberal politcal ideas that even the most dictatorial regimes have to at least pay lip service to them. This has certainly been going on for a while; I suppose names have been moving in this direction for a few hundred years.
I also looked at simple word lengths of country names. It’s not exactly the clearest bubbleplot ever, but if you go ahead and force a linear model (least-squares regression) on it, turns out each word contributes 0.26 points of un-democraticness. And if you viciously remove those lower right outliers (UK and Sao Tome), that coefficient bumps up to 0.39.
- For the 2006 CIA Factbook information, I used an XML version described here and located here. For every country it gives a “conventional long form” name. If there is none, I used the standard short name. I think the Wikipedia List of countries page might have the same information as this.
- The ratings are Freedom House’s Political Rights (“PR”) scores for 2006. (They also have a highly correlated Civil Liberties score; I should’ve used the overall average score but am too lazy to redo it all now.) Therefore this analysis doesn’t include any of the extinct but excitingly named communist countries like the German Democratic Republic. Freedom House actually has historical data going back decades, so this could definitely be looked at; presumably this would further tilt the weight of “socialist”, “people”, and “democratic” to being non-democratic.
- Strings and more in Ruby, plots all from R, and the occasional assist by Excel. Learned some new tricks too.
Update 4/2010: I have uploaded data and R analysis code, to github.com/brendano/namefreedom.