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Institutions Want stable democracy? Get the institutions right! Institutions: humanly devised constraints that shape and guide behavior. Who plays the.

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Presentation on theme: "Institutions Want stable democracy? Get the institutions right! Institutions: humanly devised constraints that shape and guide behavior. Who plays the."— Presentation transcript:

1 Institutions Want stable democracy? Get the institutions right! Institutions: humanly devised constraints that shape and guide behavior. Who plays the game, how they play the game, and consequently, who wins and who loses. – Examples of political institutions: term limits, the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives, campaign finance laws, etc. etc. etc.

2 Institutions Do institutions matter? – Traditionally in Comparative Politics: NO. Institutions are subordinate to social, economic, and cultural forces. – More recently: YES. Institutions do not simply reflect culture or economics, they actually shape outcomes.

3 Presidential Democracy Original presidential system: ours! But also very common in Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia. Not popular in Europe. Core element of presidential systems: separation of power between the executive and legislative branches of government. This does not imply that the branches are independent. Rather, it refers to their separate origin and separate survival.

4 Presidential Democracy Separate origin: Both branches are elected separately, in different elections. Separate survival: Both branches are elected for a fixed term, neither can dismiss the other. Cabinet answers only to president. Personnel of each branch is non-overlapping.

5 Presidential Democracy Implications: – Divided government is possible. – Power is fragmented.

6 Parliamentary Systems Original parliamentary system: Great Britain. Very common form of government in Western Europe, former British colonies. Core element: the executive and legislature are fused. Survival and origin of each branch are not separate.

7 Parliamentary Systems Origin not separate: – One popular election fills parliament, then cabinet (the executive) is selected from parliament. – Head of cabinet is the Prime Minister. PM is not directly elected.

8 Parliamentary Systems Survival not separate: – Cabinet must “maintain the confidence” of parliament (sustain the support of a majority of MPs) or resign. – Terms of office are not fixed, so cabinet can dissolve parliament and call new elections when it sees fit. – Thus, the executive can dissolve the legislature and the legislature can axe the executive!

9 Parliamentary Systems Implications: – Divided governments are constitutionally impossible. – Power is concentrated: cabinets rule with the entire weight of parliament behind them.

10 Types of Parliamentary Systems Majority rule: one party has a majority in parliament, can form a cabinet and rule on its own. Power is highly concentrated. (Most common in two party systems). “Westminster” system after British, as it is very common there.

11 Types of Parliamentary Systems If no party has a majority (more common in multiparty systems in Continental Europe): – Minority rule: a minority party forms a cabinet and rules alone but depends on support from other parties in parliament to stay in office. – Coalition government: formal agreement between multiple parties to form a cabinet and rule together.

12 The Pres/Parl debate Do these differences matter? One argument: YES. Presidential democracies are less stable than parliamentary ones. The retort: NO. Both systems can be stable or unstable, depending on context. Furthermore, we can’t study them in isolation. They interact with the party system to shape outcomes.

13 The case against presidentialism Divided government => Deadlock => War between branches of government => Democratic breakdown. – In contrast, in parliamentary systems, you can’t have divided government, so this never happens.

14 The case against presidentialism Because of the fixed term of office, coups are the only way to get rid of a unpopular president. – In contrast, in parliamentary systems, parliaments can remove unpopular cabinets at any time. This produces cabinet instability, but not democratic instability.

15 The case against presidentialism Presidentialism is “winner takes all.” The office of the president can’t be shared. The winner gets all of it. The loser gets nothing. Loser gets mad: has a coup!

16 The case against presidentialism And the winner gets to rule however he wants – even if he won by a small margin, and even if he won less than a majority. – In contrast, coalition governments in parliamentary systems are more inclusive and force parties to work together.

17 The counter-argument Presidential systems have better “identifiability,” i.e the link between voting and government formation is more transparent. – Presidential systems: very transparent. The candidate with the most votes wins. – Parliamentary systems: when there is no majority, government formation is a result of bargains between parties, not just voting. So transparency is lower.

18 A hypothetical election result... An election is held and five parties win seats: – The Greens: 45% of the seats – The Reds: 30% of the seats – The Blues: 15% of the seats – The Purples: 10% of the seats What coalition forms?

19 The counter-argument Lower identifiability => Voters peripheral? Lower identifiability => Less accountability – Accountability: degree to which elected leaders rule in the interests of the electorate. The threat of losing an election is said to promote accountability. – However, if there is a coalition in power: How do you vote it out if you didn’t vote it in in the first place? If things are going badly, who do you blame?

20 The counter-argument Presidential systems are not necessarily more “winner-takes-all.” – Presidential branch might be this way, but the system as a whole splits and divides power. – Furthermore, parliamentary government can be extremely winner-takes-all, i.e. under majority rule.

21 The counter-argument Cabinets can be highly unstable in parliamentary systems, especially when there is no majority. Not the same as democratic instability, but can still be problematic!

22 The counter-argument The performance of each of these systems depends the party system. Parliamentary systems: – Majority rule: stable, high identifiability, winner-takes-all. Most likely with 2 parties. – Coalition government: unstable, low identifiability, inclusive. Most likely with >2 parties.

23 The counter-argument Presidential systems: – Divided government is most severe when the President’s party is small and weak in the legislature – This is most likely when many small parties split the vote. Thus, we can’t consider presidential and parliamentary systems in isolation. We also have to look at their interaction with the party system.

24 What about the empirical record? Most stable democracies since WWII have been parliamentary, not presidential. Coups are much more common in presidential systems. Amongst new democracies, countries with parliamentary systems have been more likely to stay democratic.

25 What about the empirical record? BUT, correlation is not the same as causation! – Most parliamentary systems are located in Western Europe. Most presidential systems are located in Latin America and Africa. – Western Europe is rich, LA and Africa are poor. – Democracy is established in Western Europe, but not in LA and Africa. Thus, correlation between democratic stability and parliamentary government may simply reflect the European context of these institutions.

26 Conclusions First, prior to debating which institution is best, we must first deal with the more fundamental question: “when are institutions complied with in the first place?” Second, assuming we can solve this initial problem, then the effects of institutions may indeed be profound. However, the effect of these institutions cannot be considered in isolation. We have to look at how they interact with other factors, namely, other institutions as well as social context.

27 Why do parties matter? They help politicians act collectively in government to produce legislation. They help mobilize people into politics, especially people who might otherwise not participate. They help voters resolve uncertainty about electoral options.

28 Why do parties matter? They aggregate diverse interests and identities into a single, cohesive political front. They help voters hold politicians accountable for their behavior in government. They improve the quality of leaders.

29 Explaining the number of parties Explanation One: Society. Societies that are more diverse and have more cleavages are likely to have more parties. Why? – People in the same group have common interests and vote in a similar fashion. – Parties play to divisions that have social meaning.

30 Explaining the number of parties BUT: In most countries, there are far more divisions in society than there are parties. Not all divisions get translated into the party system. Our explanation for party systems therefore must go beyond social diversity.

31 Explaining the number of parties Explanation Two: Institutions. The rules of the electoral system profoundly shape party systems. Electoral system: mechanism for transforming votes into an allocation of the offices at stake. Electoral system has two parts: electoral formula and district size.

32 Explaining the number of parties Electoral formula: how votes get translated into seats. – Majoritarian: the party winning the majority of votes wins all the seats. – Plurality: the party winning the most votes wins all the seats. – Proportional representation: seats are allocated according to the percentage of votes won.

33 Explaining the number of parties District magnitude: the number of seats up for grabs in a particular district. – Single member districts: one seat up for grabs. – Multi-member districts: multiple seats up for grabs.

34 Explaining the number of parties Most countries have one of two combinations: – Plurality rule plus single member districts, or SMP. – PR plus multi-member districts. Voting in SMP systems is candidate based. Voting PR systems is party based. Voters vote for party lists, not individuals.

35 Explaining the number of parties Duverger’s Law: SMP systems tend to produce two parties, PR systems tend to produce more than two parties. The generalization of DL is Cox’s M+1 Rule: the number of parties in a district will be bounded by the number of seats up for grabs in that district. Empirically speaking, Duverger’s Law is well established. So what’s behind it?

36 Explaining the number of parties Two components: one mechanical, one psychological. The mechanical component: SMP rules are tough on small parties. A party can win lots of votes yet fail to win seats if its votes are not concentrated.

37 Explaining the number of parties Hypothetical example: A country with three parties (X,Y,Z) and 3 districts. – District 1: X wins 60%, Y wins 10%, Z wins 30%. X WINS SEAT. – District 2: X wins 10%, Y wins 60%, Z wins 30%. Y WINS SEAT. – District 3: X wins 51%, Y wins 1%, Z wins 48%. X WINS SEAT. Overall, Z wins NO SEATS, even though it won at least 30% of the vote. OUCH!

38 Explaining the number of parties Psychological effect: – The psychological effect exacerbates the mechanical effect of SMP rules. It kicks in when voters abandon parties they think will be disadvantaged. – This implies strategic voting (voting for your favorite from amongst the set you think has a chance of winning) versus sincere voting (voting for your absolute favorite).

39 Explaining the number of parties An example: There are 3 candidates (X,Y,Z) running for a single seat. Your preference ordering is: Z>X>Y. But you believe that Z has no chance of winning the election. The real race is between X and Y. What do you do? Sincere voter: you vote for Z. Strategic voter: you vote for X, because it is the lesser of two evils.

40 Explaining the number of parties Thus, SMP rules tend to produce 2 parties. In contrast, PR allows a large number of parties to win seats. Consequently, voters are less concerned about wasting votes. PR systems are therefore associated with a proliferation of parties.

41 So what? More parties => fragmentation. – In parliamentary systems, this forces coalitions or minority governments. Good because inclusive, bad because unstable. – In presidential systems, this can created severe divided government and deadlock, which can be bad. More parties => More choice, “better” representation.

42 So what? Two parties => moderation, less polarization. – Polarization: divergence between parties. – Too much polarization: winning or losing elections assumes a “life or death” significance. This can be destabilizing because people will do anything do avoid losing.

43 So what? The Median Voter Theorem: In a two party system, both parties have strong incentives to compete for the median voter. Thus, political competition produces moderation, even if the electorate itself is polarized. In contrast, there are no such incentives in multiparty systems. Any polarization in the electorate gets translated into the party system.

44 So what? So, the number of parties influences fractionalization, representation, and polarization. All of these things in turn may relate to stability. Hence, electoral rules, through their effect on the number of parties, can have a potent impact on democracy.

45 Limitations The same rules can produce very different outcomes! Example: the Netherlands and Israel. Very similar rules, both have large party systems (as Duverger’s Law would predict), but Israel’s is at least twice the size of the Netherlands (so Duverger doesn’t explain everything). Other aspects of the party system (distribution of support, volatility of voting) might matter at least as much or more than the number of parties, and yet these are not explained by electoral rules.

46 Limitations How much do the rules explain about voting in South Africa? – Electoral system: national list PR. Very proportional. Could support a huge number of parties, so why are there only 7? – Why does the ANC always win 2/3’s of the vote? Why so skewed? Why so stable? Not a function of the electoral rules. – To understand these outcomes, probably also need to look at society, in particular, significance of race to voting.

47 Conclusion It is the interaction between institutions and social cleavages that ultimately shapes outcomes. We need to understand both.

48 General Background: 1919-1933 Weimar was born in 1919, following the defeat of Germany in WWI. At the time, Germany was relatively economically developed. – 19 th Century: rapid industrialization – Urban, educated population

49 General Background: 1919-1933 However, Germany never-the-less faced large challenges... Economic challenges: – Reparation payments strained the economy – Inflation raged: In 1923, it reached 26 billion percent (!?)

50 General Background: 1919-1933 Social/cultural challenges: – People were not convinced of democracy’s value. Liberal norms were not fully established in the population. – Public opinion was polarized between the extreme right and the extreme left. Add to this: institutional (state level) challenges.

51 General Background: 1919-1933 System was neither presidential nor parliamentary, but an awkward combination of both. – Both president and parliament (Reichstag) were elected by popular election. – President selected cabinet, which came from parliament and was headed by PM (Chancellor). – Both parliament and president could dismiss Cabinet. President could dismiss Parliament. – Chronic and intense conflict between branches. Unstable cabinets. Frequent elections.

52 General Background: 1919-1933 The party system was based on PR rules and was highly fragmented. – Coalition governments were the norm. They were highly unstable. – The power of small parties was magnified. – No incentive to compete for the median voter, so the party system reflected the underlying polarization of preferences in society.

53 General Background: 1919-1933 Given economic, socio-cultural, and institutional factors, it is not surprising that politics were highly conflictual. – November 1923: Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch. Easily contained, but speaks to general instability.

54 General Background: 1919-1933 Beginning around 1925, Weimar stabilized. “Golden era.” – Economy improved – Political tensions eased – Institutional instability persisted, but it was less threatening.

55 General Background: 1919-1933 Late 1920s: economic crisis returns. – 1929: Wall Street crashes. – German unemployment escalates: terrifies German middles class, who fear the rise of Communism.

56 General Background: 1919-1933 The rise of Hitler and the Nazis – Ideological appeals: Hitler portrayed himself as the one who could stop Germany’s economic and political decline. – Nazis were incredibly organized on the ground. – Nazis: 2% of the vote in 1928, 18% of the vote in 1930. 18% of the vote was enough to be a power broker in fractionalized party system.

57 General Background: 1919-1933 Institutional problems came into full flower: – No stable coalition in parliament. Open conflict between executive and legislature. President began issuing laws “over the head” of the Reichstag. – In 1932, Paul Von Hindenberg beats Hitler and wins re- election to presidency. To stave off conflict, he appoints Hitler as chancellor in January 1933. Once in power, Hitler moves to shut down democracy.

58 The Rise of the Nazis in Northeim The Nazis exploited class tensions. Democracy resulted in the rise of the Social Democratic Party, which the middle class hated. The Nazis portrayed themselves as the opposition to the SPD. The middle class had luke warm feelings about democracy to begin with. The Nazis were extremely organized on the grass- roots level.

59 The Rise of the Nazis in Northeim Class tensions and organizations were not alone sufficient: up until 1929, the Nazis were very small. What pushed the middle class into the arms of the Nazis? Economic crisis. By 1932, the party had a majority in Northeim.

60 The Rise of the Nazis in Northeim NOT a lack of social capital or civic culture – 161 clubs in Northeim, 1 for every 60 people. – Highly participatory population: turnout rates in elections ranged from 94 to 97 percent.

61 Implications for theories? Cultural factors – Putnam’s social capital argument is challenged. Not only did social capital not prevent the rise of Hitler, it may have actually facilitated it. – Perhaps it’s not the level of social capital, but the type. Bridging social capital may be key. – Liberal norms were not fully entrenched in the population – this may also have been important.

62 Implications for theories? Political factors – Entrepreneurial skills of the Nazis, the charisma of Hitler => probably important. – Weimar’s institutions amplified and exacerbated social tensions, rather than helping to manage them.

63 Implications for theories? Economic factors – When the economy was good, Weimar functioned in spite of its tensions. – When the economy was bad (Great Depression), the tensions proved impossible to manage. – So, not economic development in this case, but economic crisis very important.

64 Overview: Explaining Democratic Instability Cultural Explanations – Liberalism – Civic Culture – More generally, a wide-spread acceptance of democracy as the “real” rules of the political game. Institutional Explanations – Pres/Parl debate – Party systems Economic Explanations – Modernization theory – Economic Crisis


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