The grade shows some improvement over last year. But that progress should be viewed with caution, according to the center's director, Patrick Regan. Last year the CDP gave President Bush a 'C-' in human rights when graded on a curve against other recent administrations, Regan said. This year's marginally better grade reflects some quantifiable improvements in the Bush record, but also results from a more lenient curve, influenced by Bush's own poor mark of the past, he noted.
"While the Bush Administration again gets a passing grade, this 'C" leaves the administration far from the standard-bearing image for which many see the United States," said Regan, who is also a professor of political science at Binghamton.
The Bush Administration improved its standing over the previous year by logging reductions in the number of political prisoners and in the number of official visits to the White House from leaders of countries deemed to be "not free" based on the Freedom House ranking system. But political prisoners recorded by Amnesty International are still hundreds more than any of Bush's predecessors, Regan noted.
In general, grades are established by the CDP by assessing presidential administrations against seven weighted indicators that reflect the policies and preferences of an administration to issues of human rights. Those seven indicators are:
1) references to human rights in the State of the Union address
2) Amnesty International report on human rights violations by the U.S.
3) child welfare provisions
4) approval of requests for asylum from highly repressive countries
5) visits by heads of states from highly repressive countries
6) the number of human rights agreements signed during the year
7) the percent of the discretionary budget allocated for human rights programs.
Each indicator is weighted in accordance with its importance to determining the direction of policy and preferences. The report assumes, for example, that reports of political prisoners and torture bear a greater impact on the record of the Administration than do budget allocations and child welfare provisions.
Data from three previous presidents--Carter, Reagan and George H.W. Bush-- are used to establish a standard by which the grades are determined. Each of these past presidents would have received better grades than the current one.
"While we do not necessarily use the performance of the Administration on our indicators to reflect a comparison to the performance of other countries," Regan said. "we do see it as one mechanism to evaluate the policies of the current administration vis-à-vis its predecessors. In effect, this is a performance indicator of the U.S. policies over time. One might compare, for instance, how likely we would be to hear charges of prisoner abuse and torture if one of the president's predecessors were in office. Our report also gives some credence to the charges that abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons stem from broad policies set at the upper levels of the administration rather than from rogue members of the armed forces."
The Center on Democratic Performance was established in 1999 at Binghamton University as a research center of the Research Foundation of State University of New York. Its mission is to assist the academic and policy communities in understanding the functioning and performance of democratic political institutions. Since 1999 the Center has undertaken a number of research projects, country assessments, and held workshops on topics ranging from satisfaction with democracy to cooperation and conflict. Another key initiative of the Center has been to generate systematic data on democratic elections around the world. The Election Results Archive provides a user-friendly database and provides information needed to evaluate elections in over 130 countries between 1974 and 2002. It is believed to be the largest such database in the world.
For more information on the Center on Democratic Performance at Binghamton University or to review the complete Presidential Human Rights Performance Report Card, go to http://cdp.