As of 2013, there are 118 countries in the world classified as electoral democracies, according to Freedom House, though these democracies do not all afford their citizens the same level of freedom. Every year another organization, Democracy Ranking, ranks the world's democracies using a variety of criteria. In the 2012 report, with one exception, the top 10 are in Europe -- and the United States ranks only 15th.

Criteria

The Democracy Ranking uses a formula to arrive at its ranking. The quality of a country's democracy is derived by adding measures of the country's freedom and political characteristics to performance on nonpolitical dimensions, including economic health, gender equality, knowledge, health and environmental quality. The political criteria are given the greatest weight -- 50 percent of the total score -- while the five nonpolitical dimensions count toward 10 percent of the total score each. In other words, the rankings value a healthy democratic government more than a robust economy or high levels of gender equality.

The Top 5

The five most democratic nations, according to the Democracy Ranking's 2012 report, are: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Denmark. Predictably, these countries all have very high political rankings -- Finland scores 99.8 out of 100, for instance, and Norway, 99. Norway also has the highest ratings in the economy and gender equality categories.

Numbers 6 to 10

The next five countries in the Democracy Ranking's ratings are: The Netherlands, New Zealand, Germany, Ireland and Austria. Of these, New Zealand -- the only top-10 democracy not in Europe -- scored the highest on the political measurement and gender equality, while Austria was rated highest in health and Germany in knowledge.

The Worst

The Democracy Ranking also lists the countries that perform the worst according to its criteria. The worst 10, out of the 104 evaluated countries, are, in order: Yemen, Syria, Libya, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, China, Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria and Haiti. China, the world's most populous country, scores surprisingly well in health and gender equality, but more poorly in political, economic and environmental ratings.

The United States

The United States, the Cold War's last remaining superpower and a country that often considers itself a beacon of freedom and democracy, ranked only 15th according to the Democracy Ranking's criteria, behind the aforementioned top 10 countries and Canada, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Australia. While the U.S. scores among the top countries according to the political and economic criteria, its ratings on the environment and knowledge are more mediocre.