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Sunday, 2 November 2014

Notes from "Consequences of Democratic Institutions"

Chapter 16 of Principles of Comparative Politics (William Roberts Clark, Matt Golder and Sona Nadenichek Golder)

- 2 visions of democracy:

+ Majoritarian vision: elections are events in which citizens get to choose between 2 alternative teams of politicians that are competing for government=> citizens know that whichever team forms the government is responsible for the policies that do or do not get implemented during its tenure=> can reward or punish the incumbents in the following election=> exert influence over policy decisions only at election time.
=> all policymaking power is concentrated in the hands of a majority government.
+ Consensus vision: elections are events in which citizens chose representative agents from as wide a range of social groups as possible and these agents then go on to bargain over policy in the legislature=> legislature: a miniature reflection of society as a whole=> elections provide citizens with the opportunity to choose representatives that they believe will advocate their interests=> citizens can influence the policymaking process between elections.
=> no precise set of policies, all groups of citizens should have the power to influence.
=> power should be dispersed among as many political actors as possible.

- Institutions:



(Presidential systems fall at the consensus end of the spectrum because power is dispersed between the executive and legislature. In parliamentary systems, the executive is supported by a legislative majority. For semi-presidential regimes, the premier-presidential democracies are close to parliamentary democracies, whereas the position of the president-parliamentary democracies on the spectrum depends on whether there's cohabitation or not, i.e. whether the president's from 1 political bloc and the PM's from another, or from the same one).

Prototype for consensus democracies: Belgium
+ federal
+ bicameral
+ constitutional review
+ proportional representation=> large party system, broad coalition governments
+ cabinets: equal number of French- and Flemish- speaking ministers (not including the PM)

=> Evaluating majoritarian and consensus visions of democracy:

- Accountability and mandates:
+ Accountability: the extent to which voters are able to reward or punish parties for their behaviour in office.
Retrospective voting: voters look at the past performance of incumbent parties to decide how to vote in the current election.
+ Clarity of responsibility: ability of citizens to identify who's responsible for the policies that are (or are not) implemented.
=> majoritarian> consensus (blame shifting, credit claiming, etc.)
also: governments in non-presidential democracies can fall in the middle of an interelection period=> voters may have to pass judgment on a government that hasn't been in power for a long time=> who's responsible for the policies in place and the outcomes being experienced?



+ Mandate: a policy that the government's both authorised and obligated to carry out once in office.

Prospective voting: voters base how they will vote in the current election on the expected performance of incumbents and challengers.
=> majoritarian: elections are not just about throwing the rascals out but also about giving the next government a mandate to implement the policies that it ran on during the electoral campaign.
consensus: views mandates as being bad because they mean ignoring the preferences of the minority not in power.
+ Government identifiability: the extent to which voters can identify what government alternatives they are voting for at election time.
=> majoritarian> consensus.

- Representation: responsiveness+ congruence.

+ Responsiveness/ dynamic representation: how well elected representatives respond to changes in the preferences of the electorate.
=> majoritarian: fully responsive when the party with a majority of the votes controls the government, partially responsive when the party with a mere plurality of the votes controls the government.
consensus: government formation process is complicated=> weak connection between percentage of seats and share of power.
=> both majoritarian and consensus democracies come close to but fall short of realising their ideals of democratic responsiveness.
+ Congruence/ static representation: how well elected representatives match the preferences of the electorate.
=> can be achieved in both, but empirically: majoritarian< consensus.

=> Conclusion:

Majoritarian: better at promoting mandates, accountability, government identifiability, clarity of responsibility and the like.
Consensus: better at dispersing power, providing choice, generating ideological congruence between citizens and representatives.
=> the US: best example of a hybrid.
  • extremely majoritarian in electoral system, party system, government type and interest group relations
  • extremely consensus-oriented in that it has constitutional review and it is presidential, federal and bicameral
=> "the best of both worlds", or "neither fish nor fowl"?

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The effect of political institutions on fiscal policy

- Fiscal policy: manipulation of tax and spending decisions to accomplish government goals.
- Economic and cultural determinants of fiscal policy:
+ Net contributors and net recipients.


+ The partisan model of macroeconomic policy: left-wing parties represent the interests of low-income voters and right-wing parties, high-income voters.

+ Americans and Europeans have different attitudes towards the poor=> different policies.

- Electoral laws and fiscal policy:

Higher fiscal policy activity in countries with proportional representation electoral systems=> why?
+ PR leads to more redistribution by facilitating the election of left-wing governments.
+ PR leads to more redistribution through its effect on the size of electoral districts.
+ PR affects government spending and debt through its effect on the composition of governments.

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Electoral laws, federalism and ethnic conflict

- Ethnic diversity and conflict:
+ We should recognise that such conflict is the exception and that interethnic peace is the rule.
+ Ethnic violence, irredentism, rebellion, civil war.
+ It's ethnic polarisation, not ethnic heterogeneity that increases the likelihood of things like civil war.
The risk is higher when there are a few large ethnic groups with opposing interests than when there are many small ethnic groups.
+ Ethnic outbidding: a process in which ethnic divisions are politicised and the result is the formation of increasingly polarised ethnic parties.

- Electoral laws and ethnic conflict:

+ Debate: whether democratic stability is best ensured by taking ethnic groups as given and ensuring that minorities are guaranteed adequate representation, or by assuming that group identities are malleable and can be successfully channelled into regime-supporting, rather than regime-challenging, behaviours.
+ Arend Lijphart: 1st view=> consensus.
=> Consociationalism: form of government that emphasises power sharing through guaranteed group representation.
Confessionalism: form of government that emphasises power sharing by different religious communities through guaranteed group representation.
=> Criticisms: PR systems can replicate societal division in the legislature, sometimes facilitate the election of small anti-system parties that become locked in cycles of legislative conflict, which can then spill over into violent social conflict; or give a disproportionate influence to small parties that can be very radical, etc.
=> Donald Horowitz=> alternative vote=> voters motivated by ethnic identity are likely to indicate a co-ethnic as their 1st preference and the least unsavoury candidate from an alternative ethnic group as their 2nd choice=> successful candidates would be those successful at making board-based centrist appeals that cross ethnic lines=> encourages moderation and compromise.
(little evidence, however).
+ Selway and Templeman: PR appears to exacerbate political violence when ethnic fractionalisation is high; similar results for the effect of parliamentary, as opposed to presidential, rule.

- Federalism and ethnic conflict:

+ Incongruent and asymmetric federalism has been seen as particularly appealing for those countries in which policy preferences differ in significant ways across geographically concentrated ethnic groups.
+ Several studies challenge this view, some even go as far as to suggest that federalism may actually intensify, rather than reduce, ethnic conflict:
  • reinforces regionally based ethnic identities
  • provides access to political and economic resources that ethnic leaders can then use to bring pressure against the state
  • makes it easier for ethnic groups at the subnational level to produce legislation that discriminates against regional minorities
  • decreases outright rebellion but increase protest activity among minority groups
  • no effect on the level of attachment that minority (or majority) groups feel towards the state
=> black-and-white terms.
=> reality: success in some countries, failure in some others=> why?
=> Brancati: political decentralisation reduces ethnic conflict when regional parties are weak, but can increase it when regional parties are strong.
=> should combine incongruent and asymmetric federalism with other institutional features that lower the likelihood that regional parties will form and do well.
+ Electoral laws=> preferential voting systems attempt to weaken or even transcend the political salience of regional as well as ethnic identities=> likely to discourage the emergence and success of parties that focus their campaigning on a particular identity (regional or ethnic) group.
+ Can impose cross-regional vote requirements.

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Presidentialism and democratic survival 
- Evidence suggests that democracy's less stable in presidential regimes than in parliamentary ones, and that parliamentary democracies last much longer. 
=> due to something inherent in the structures of presidentialism? 
- Shively: consequences of presidentialism:
+ Presidents can appeal directly to voters and fuse the powers associated with the head of the state and the head of government, so they can wield a degree of power unavailable to most PMs, who, by comparison, are "1st among equals" in the legislature. 
+ Low clarity of responsibility. 
+ Makes it difficult for policy to be made quickly: new legislation must work its way through the legislature and be accepted by the president before it can be enacted. 
+ Different recruitment: PMs tend to be selected from the leadership of a party's legislative delegation=> have worked their way up (debating skills, policy expertise, loyalty). President candidates may not have experience and expertise. 
=> However, parliamentary democracies that have coalition governments are also likely to have difficulty in making policy quickly, locating responsibility for policy and making comprehensive policy. 
Immobilism: a situation in parliamentary democracies in which government coalitions are so weak and unstable that they are incapable of reaching an agreement on new policy. 
=> French 4th republic (1946- 1958)=> Charles de Gaulle's new constitution=> a stronger president's the solution to the problems of parliamentarism as exhibited in the 4th republic (instability, immobilism, stalemate). 
=> Are the dangers of parliamentarism greater than the dangers of presidentialism or vice versa? 
- Stepan and Skach: the prospects for the survival of democracy are worse under presidentialism.
+ Presidentialism: mutual independence (legislative and executive branches).
Parliamentarism: mutual dependence.
+ Presidentialism: antagonism.
Parliamentarism: reconciliation.
+ Parliamentarism: constitutional means for resolving deadlock=> the legislature can pass a vote of no confidence and remove the government, or the PM can dissolve the parliament and call for new elections=> greater stability.
+ Data: parliamentary democracies have higher survival rate.
=> What if the factors that cause democracies to fail are also associated with the choice to adopt parliamentarism or presidentialism in the 1st place? Because then it may be these factors, not presidentialism per se, that cause the collapse of democracy.
- Vanhanen=> democratisation index.
=> association between it and power resource index.
=> overachievers (score surprisingly high on democratisation index)- 37 parliamentary, 10 presidential
vs underachievers- 6 parliamentary, 12 presidential
(=> affect survival).
=> However, if presidentialism is adopted in moments of crisis, then the regime collapses not because there's something problematic about presidentialism, but because it tends to be adopted in difficult circumstances.
- Mainwaring:
+ Legislative fragmentation=> cabinet instability in parliamentary systems, democratic instability in presidential (=> deadlock).
+ Presidents lack experience to deal with the legislature or to solve deadlock situations.
+ But, low legislative fragmentation=> low likelihood of deadlock=> low democratic instability.
=> not presidentialism per se that imperils democracy, but rather presidentialism combined with a highly fragmented legislature.

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