So far, the comprehensive measurement of legitimacy has been mainly the preserve of academics and has been attempted only over the last decade. Considering the difficulties experienced in doing this, it is not surprising that there are few examples of donor programmes successfully monitoring and tracking legitimacy and linking these measurements to programming decisions. In this section, the various approaches to measuring legitimacy are described and evaluated.
As normative approaches understand legitimacy as something identifiable in the features of the governing entity (the conferee), these approaches to measuring legitimacy usually involve identifying whether a feature is present, or not, and rating the system accordingly. This was the approach used by the CRISE research programme (Stewart & Brown, 2010) and proposed by the Authority, Legitimacy and Capacity tool, mentioned above. Empirical approaches can treat legitimacy as residing in the beliefs of the governed population but more comprehensive approaches treat legitimacy as residing in the interaction between the dominant and the subordinate (drawing on Beetham’s conceptualisation).
Use of perception surveys to measure legitimacy
Quantitative measurements of legitimacy to monitor and evaluate the impact of programmes have tended to rely on perception surveys which ask about whether central and local governments act for the benefit of all (Beath et al., 2012) or whether decisions made by central and local government reflect personal priorities (Mallett et al., 2015). It does not appear that this approach to measuring legitimacy has been incorporated into monitoring and evaluation strategies and used to inform programming decisions.
There are some methodological problems with relying on perception surveys alone to measure legitimacy. As this Topic Guide illustrates, legitimacy is too unwieldy and complex a concept to be measured with one indicator. Thus, virtually all perception surveys on legitimacy break it into a range of different indicators which are related to legitimacy but are not necessarily measuring the same thing, making it difficult to compare across studies.
Furthermore, it may not be safe or strategic for interviewees to express dissatisfaction with an authority. Finally, legitimacy is not only construed through perceptions, but also through people’s acts of consent. For example, citizens may express a belief in the legitimacy of a state but pay an accountant to help them avoid paying tax.
Moving beyond perception surveys
There have been some attempts to overcome the problems of measuring legitimacy only through perceptions. Perhaps the most comprehensive attempt has been Bruce Gilley’s (2006) cross national study on legitimacy. He set out to measure legitimacy in democratic and non-democratic regimes through perceptions of legitimacy and through features of the state which may indicate stability. Gilley drew on Beetham’s work (see Section 1 for more details) by conceptualising legitimacy in terms of three components:
- perceptions of legality;
- perceptions of shared principles;
- ideas and values by the state (Gilley named this ‘views of justification’) and acts of consent.
Using this approach he was able to overcome the problems of relying on perceptions alone to measure legitimacy, especially in relation to non-democratic regimes. Based on his findings, Gilley argued that legitimacy is best understood as a dynamic process of interaction or dialogue between states and their citizens in which performance and legitimacy respond to each other. In Sweden, Roos and Lidström (2014) also measured perceptions of legitimacy but then compared these with government actions at local level. Their approach wasn’t as dynamic as Gilley’s but was a useful counterbalance to relying on perceptions alone. Robert Lamb (2014) proposed a multilevel assessment method that includes thinking of legitimacy as multidimensional, multilevel and bilateral. The levels are categorised as:
- micro (individual beliefs);
- meso (group behaviours which represent publically expressed judgements of public attributes);
- macro (public attributes of the entity on which legitimacy is being conferred).
Lamb’s method differs from other approaches on three counts. First the assessment of the public attributes is missing from other approaches to measuring legitimacy. Second, it is designed to be used to assess the legitimacy not only of political regimes, but also of systems that need legitimacy to survive (such as organisations or non-sovereign groups). Thirdly, Lamb argues that legitimacy is bilateral and thus includes provision for analysing the extent to which a conferee considers their referees legitimate.
Measuring legitimacy as an interaction between the governor and the governed
Bruce Gilley Cross National Survey
Gilley (2006) drew on Beetham’s work (see Section 1 for more details) by conceptualising legitimacy in terms of three subcomponents; perceptions of legality, perceptions of shared principles, ideas and values by the state (Gilley named this ‘views of justification’) and acts of consent. Initially, he selected a range of indicators to measure these three components (see Appendix 1). In the end, Gilley was not able to access this type of data on a varied sample of countries to make his analysis worthwhile. He thus narrowed his indicators and unfortunately, his final list contained a built-in normative bias towards democratic regimes, e.g. one of his indicators measured satisfaction with ‘development in democratic development’, while another measured satisfaction with ‘operation of democracy’. Considering the built-in bias towards democratic regimes in the actual survey instrument, it may be worthwhile returning to his initial approach which appears not to include such biases.
Roos and Lidström’s study of impacts of local government action on perceptions of legitimacy in Sweden
Roos and Lidström (2014) drew on the same typology used by OECD; input and output legitimacy. To measure input legitimacy, Roos and Lidstrom used citizens’ perceptions and evaluations of opportunities to influence municipal decisions and activities in general, while perceptions and evaluations of welfare services (childcare facilities, schools, care for the elderly, social services) and municipal basic collection services (streets and local roads, sports and recreational facilities, cultural facilities, environmental services etc.) was used to measure output legitimacy. The perceptions were collected from Sweden’s census data. While not all national census include questions about perceptions of government performance, this approach could potentially be used in both democratic and non-democratic states. Due to its focus on the link between perceptions of legitimacy of local level government and local actions, this approach might be most relevant to linking measures of legitimacy with programme intervention.
Lamb’s multidimensional, multilevel, and bilateral approach
Robert Lamb (2014) proposed a multilevel assessment method that includes a conceptualization of legitimacy as a multidimensional, multi level and bilateral. The levels are categorized as micro (individual beliefs), meso (group behaviours which represent publically expressed judgments of public attributes) and macro (public attributes of the entity on which legitimacy is being conferred) levels. Individual beliefs can be captured through surveys, focus groups or interviews with the population which aim to capture how much confidence or trust do individuals express about the conferee. Group behaviours that express judgment of a conferee might include participation in elections, payment of taxes in the case of a government. Public attributes can be measured by examining whether the conferee operates in a way that is consistent with the values of its citizens, e.g. whether the conferee treats citizens with respect according to the citizens definition of respectful treatment, whether the ideological or religious beliefs are shared by the conferee and its citizens. Presumably the researcher would need to have deep knowledge about the values of the citizens or else devise a way for assessing the values before assessing the public attributes.
- Claire Mcloughlin at the University of Birmingham is currently developing a method for measuring legitimacy with reference to state-building and service delivery.
- Beath, A., Fotini, C., & Enikolopov, R. (2012). Winning hearts and minds? Evidence from a field experiement in Afghanistan. See document online
- Gilley, B. (2006). The determinants of state legitimacy: review for 72 countries. International Political Science Review, 27(1). See document online
- Lamb, R. (2014). Rethinking legitimacy and illegitimacy. Washington, DC: Centre for Strategic and International Studies. See document online
- Mallett, R., Hagen-Zanker, J., Slater, R., & Sturge, G. (2015). Surveying livelihoods, service delivery and governance: baseline evidence from DRC, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Uganda (Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium Working Paper 31). London: ODI. See document online
- Roos, K., & Lidström, A. (2014). Local policies and local government legitimacy. The Swedish case. Urban Research & Practice, 7(2), 137–52. See document online
- Stewart, F., & Brown, G. (2010). Fragile states (CRISE Working Paper No. 51). CRISE. See document online