Are presidential democracies more prone to becoming dictatorships than parliamentary democracies?
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Summary produced by: State of K
The evidence suggests that yes, presidential democracies are more prone to becoming dictatorships than parliamentary democracies, but there are many qualifications.
We believe this is the best available short answer based on our reading of the 17 studies we found that examine this question
The 17 studies were published from 1990 to 2015.
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List of studies last updated: Jan. 10, 2018
Summaries of Studies
Studies found that examine this question: 17
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Presidential Republics Are Not Inherently Unfit To Govern
Author: Jean Blondel
"It is rather surprising that there should not have been a systematic attempt by political scientists, at any rate for many decades, to account for the fact that, while the presidential republic flourished during over two centuries in the United States, even if with some problems, no European country should have successfully adopted that model in the course of several decades following American independence: as a matter of fact, the only occasion in which such an attempt was made was in France in 1848; but, in 1852, the president who had been elected by universal suffrage, the nephew of Napoleon, usurped his powers, dismissed the constitution and set up an ‘empire’. Perhaps not surprisingly, American-type presidentialism was regarded for a century, at any rate in France, as leading directly to dictatorship. Meanwhile, in Latin America, where the presidential model had been widely adopted, the results were at best unconvincing. Yet, if the presidential republic was good for America, why could such a model of government be ineffective or even ‘dangerous’ elsewhere?"
Presidential breakdowns in Latin America: Causes and outcomes of executive instability in developing democracies
Authors: Leiv Marsteintredet, Mariana Llanos
"This volume is the first comprehensive analysis of a new type of executive instability without regime instability in Latin America referred to as presidential breakdown. It includes a theoretical introduction framing the debate within the institutional literature on democracy and democratization, and the implications of this new type of executive instability for presidential democracies. Two comparative chapters analyze the causes, procedures, and outcomes of presidential breakdowns in a regional perspective, and country studies provide in depth analyses of all countries in Latin America that have experienced one or several presidential breakdowns: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela."
Presidential and democratic breakdowns in Latin America: Similar causes, different outcomes
Authors: Leiv Marsteintredet, Michael E. Álvarez
Introduction: Presidentialism and Presidential Breakdowns in Latin America
Authors: Leiv Marsteintredet, Mariana Llanos
"When Juan Linz published his book on the breakdown of democratic regimes, the third wave of democratization was just beginning in Latin America. At the time, military regimes and regime instability had been the rule for decades, and in this context Linz argued that, among other factors, the characteristics of presidentialism, the prevailing regime type in the region, could explain Latin America’s endemic instability and authoritarian tendencies. Thirty years on, however, the third wave seems to have marked the end of democratic breakdown and long-lived authoritarian regimes. Latin America is still dominated by a variety of presidential regimes and, with few exceptions, democracy, albeit imperfect, holds sway from the Rio Bravo to Tierra del Fuego.
Even though democratic regime breakdowns are less of a peril now than they were thirty years ago, government crises have persisted into the democratic era. These crises, which in contemporary Latin America occur separately from regime crises, are the object of study of this book."
Perils of Parliamentarism? Political Systems and the Stability of Democracy Revisited
Authors: Sawa Omori, Taeko Hiroi
"Parliamentary systems are generally regarded as superior to presidential ones in democratic sustenance. This article contributes to the debate on the relationship between systems of government and the survival of democracy by bringing in a new perspective and analysing the experiences of 131 democracies during 1960–2006. We argue that systems of government do matter, but their effects are indirect; they exert their influence through societies’ prior democratic records. Confirming the conventional argument, our data analysis shows that uninterrupted parliamentary democracies face significantly lower risks of a first breakdown than their presidential counterparts. Contrary to the common understanding, however, we find that the risk of a democratic breakdown can be higher for parliamentary regimes than for presidential regimes among the countries whose democracy has collapsed in the past.
Furthermore, the risk of a previously failed democracy falling again grows as (the risk of) government crises increase(s). Hence our study questions the common belief that parliamentary systems are categorically more conducive to democratic stability than presidential ones."
The Failure of Presidentialism in Central Asia
Author: Sherzod Abdukadirov
"Abstract Institutional design can impact the dynamics of power relations in Central Asian states. Majoritarianism and the rigidity of the fixed terms of presidential systems are amplified by the personalist regimes of Central Asia, often leading to instability. A parliamentary system may reduce the political repression of these regimes by decreasing the stakes in each particular election.
It may also increase stability due to the higher flexibility of the system. The effectiveness of the parliamentary system, however, depends largely on the existence of strong cohesive parties. Abstract Institutional design can impact the dynamics of power relations in Central Asian states.
Majoritarianism and the rigidity of the fixed terms of presidential systems are amplified by the personalist regimes of Central Asia, often leading to instability. A parliamentary system may reduce the political repression of these regimes by decreasing the stakes in each particular election. It may also increase stability due to the higher flexibility of the system.
The effectiveness of the parliamentary system, however, depends largely on the existence of strong cohesive parties."
Measuring the Presidential Risk Factor: A Comment on Cheibub’s Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy
Author: William C. Terry
"I argue that the vision of “self-enforcing” democratization found in, for example, Przeworski (1992) and Acemoglou and Robinson (2007)—wherein democracy represents an organic balance of power between society’s actors, arrived at through a potentially long process of political give and take—is relevant for understanding an important difference between the modal democracies born during and after the Cold War. Given the logic of the self-enforcing democratization literature, and the evidence of an increased incidence of “electoral authoritarianism” in the Cold War period, I demonstrate that we should expect a much smaller estimated impact of the presidential risk factor after the Cold War than during it, even if presidentialism’s effect on breakdown remains constant."
This study responds to: Presidentialism, parliamentarism, and democracy
Presidentialism, parliamentarism, and democracy
Author: José Antonio Cheibub
"Is presidentialism harmful to democratic consolidation? The literature (Linz 1990) provides theoretical grounds linking presidentialism and authoritarian reversals. However, contradictory findings generate scholarly disagreements and suspicions regarding the claim. To solve this puzzle, I propose that democratic breakdown needs to be understood as a two-step process, from democratic crisis to democratic breakdown.
By doing so, I argue that Linz's argument on the curse of presidentialism is valid. I argue that presidentialism generates political instability through its institutions which are associated with the emergence of democratic crisis, but political instability does not lead a democracy from democratic crisis to democratic breakdown. Therefore, once a crisis occurs, presidentialism has no explanatory power on whether the existing crisis will successfully lead to a democratic breakdown.
Using the data covering all democratic regimes from 1946 to 2008 with regime-year as the unit of analysis and the Heckman probit selection model as the main estimation, I demonstrate that presidential democracies are more likely to encounter crises compared to parliamentarism and semi-presidentialism. However, once a crisis is present, presidentialism does not warrant a higher likelihood of breakdown. Therefore, the findings suggest that Linz was correct about presidentialism generating unstable democracies, but not in the way in which he theorized.
That is, presidentialism indirectly contributes to the likelihood of democratic breakdown."
This study was later responded to by:
This study responds to: The Perils of Presidentialism
Facing the Perils of Presidentialism?
Authors: Boo-Seung Chang, Bjorn Dressel et al
"Juan Linz's classic article laid out 4 major perils of presidentialism in the context of Latin American experience, which unleashed a flood of scholarship about the topic. Very little of the literature, however, has taken account of recent developments in East Asia, where the majority of new democracies have presidential systems. Here, Fukuyama et al consider the developments in the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea, and Taiwan, and explore to what extent Linz's critique and prediction have been borne out in East Asia."
Democratic Institutions And Regime Survival: Parliamentary and Presidential Democracies Reconsidered
Author: José Antonio Cheibub Fernando Limongi
"We review arguments and empirical evidence in the comparative literature that bear on the differences in the survival rates of parliamentary and presidential democracies. Most of these arguments focus on the fact that presidential democracies are based on the separation of executive and legislative powers, whereas parliamentary democracies are based on the fusion of these powers. The implications of this basic distinction lead to radically different behavior and outcomes under each regime.
We argue that this perspective is misguided and that one cannot deduce the functioning of the political system from the way governments are formed. Other provisions, constitutional and otherwise, also affect the way parliamentary and presidential democracies operate, and these provisions may counteract some of the tendencies that we would expect to observe if we derived the regime's performance from its basic constitutional principle."
The Perils of Presidentialism Reconsidered
Author: Stephen D. Wrage
Presidential Institutions and Democratic Politics: Comparing Regional and National Contexts
Author: Kurt Von Mettenheim
"While many comparative analysts see parliamentary government as essential for stable democracy, this volume argues that the American presidential system that separates and diffuses power can provide new perspectives for those building democratic institutions in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the new republics of the former Soviet Union. The authors recognize risks of rigidity, gridlock, and excessive centralization in presidential institutions. But they also emphasize the unexpected levels of legislative productivity during periods of divided government, the dramatic reversal of declining popularity by Presidents Reagan and Clinton, and the importance of direct appeals by presidents to the nation.
After examining the American presidential system, the authors focus on the de-facto separation of powers in European parliaments and presidentialism in France, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Both trends in European parliamentary systems and the dramatic changes within French presidential institutions suggest that scholars should temper broad generalizations about presidential or parliamentary government."
This study was later responded to by: The Perils of Presidentialism Reconsidered
Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Stable Democracy
Author: Anthony Mughan
Electoral Laws and the Survival of Presidential Democracies
Author: Mark P Jones
"In orderd to demonstrate the importance of a strong presidential legislative contingent for the successful functioning of democratic presidential government, Jones offers an examination of electoral data and examples from two separate populations: sixtenn Latin American presidential democracies and twenty-three Argentine provincial systems. Jones uses these data as evidence to support his argument that presidential systems that consistently fail to provide their president with adequate legislative support are inherently unstable and ineffective."
Presidential or Parlamentary Democracy: Does It Make a Difference?
Author: Juan J Linz
"With a superb cast of contributors and a well-chosen sample of countries, The Failure of Presidential Democracy treats a central issue in the world today, as more and more countries try to construct durable democracies. It also reflects the new emphasis in political science on institutions, an area that has been sorely neglected in Latin American studies. Indeed, the book fills a huge informational and analytical gap on institutional arrangements in Latin American political systems.
This is a stimulating, thoughtful, and relevant book-well suited to classroom use in courses on comparative politics and Latin American politics.-Paul W. Drake, University of California, San Diego. Complete Edition."
Presidentialism and Democracy - Spanish - Linz,Jj
Authors: M S Shugart, S Mainwaring
"This paper briefly reviews and critically assesses Juan Linz's arguments about the perils of presidentialism. We largely agree with Linz that presidentialism as it normally practiced is less likely than parliamentarism to sustain democratic government. Nevertheless, we introduce a number of caveats into the argument.
Although we agree with most aspects of Linz's four major criticisms of presidentialism, we disagree with one of them: we argue that presidentialism is less oriented towards winner-takes-all results than Westminster parliamentary systems. We also claim that presidentialism has some advantages that partially offset its drawbacks. These advantages can be maximized by paying careful attention to differences among presidential systems; we build a case for presidencies with weak legislative powers.
Presidentialism also appears to be more viable with parties that are at least moderately disciplined, and it is especially problematic with highly fragmented multiparty systems and with congressional elections that occur more frequently than presidential elections. Finally, we argue that switching from presidentialism to parliamentarism could exacerbate problems of governability in countries with very undisciplined parties. All of these points suggest that even if Linz is largely correct in his argument that parliamentary governments is more conducive to stable democracy, a great deal rests on what kind of parliamentarism and what kind of presidentialism are implemented."
The Perils of Presidentialism
Author: Juan J Linz
"The burden of this essay is that the superior historical performance of
parliamentary democracies is no accident. A careful comparison of
parliamentarism as such with presidentialism as such leads to the
conclusion that, on balance, the former is more conducive to stable
democracy than the latter. This conclusion applies especially to nations
with deep political cleavages and numerous political parties; for such
countries, parliamentarism generally offers a better hope of preserving
This study was later responded to by: Presidentialism, parliamentarism, and democracy