Dictatorships have dominated global politics for hundreds of years, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the absolute monarchs of Europe. Though democracy has since spread to much of the world, about a third of today’s countries are still ruled by dictatorship. And yet, compared to democracies, we know very little about how dictatorships work, who the key political actors are, and where decision-making powers lie. Political processes are opaque, and information is often intentionally distorted. Political survival depends not on maintaining the favor of voters, as in democracies, but on securing the backing of a considerably smaller coalition of supporters. The absence of a reliable third party to enforce compromises among key players means that power-sharing deals lack credibility and the threat of forced ouster is omnipresent. Uncertainty pervades authoritarian politics.
Modern autocrats respond to this uncertain environment in a variety of ways. They use political parties, legislatures, elections, and other institutions typically associated with democracies to lessen their risk of overthrow. Despite the façade of democracy, these institutions are key components of most autocrats’ survival strategies; those that incorporate them last longer in power than those that do not. The specific ways in which autocratic institutions are used and the extent to which they can constrain leadership choices to prevent consolidation of power into the hands of a single individual, however, vary enormously from one dictatorship to the next. Better understanding the conditions that push autocracies down a path of collegial versus strongman rule remains a critical task, particularly given that the latter is associated with more war, economic mismanagement, and resistance to democratization.
Coalition governments are observed frequently in parliamentary systems. Approximately 70% of all governments in postwar Europe have been one type of coalition or another. Israel has never been ruled by a single-party government in its history. Recently, majoritarian systems like Britain produced coalitions, taking many by surprise.
The prominence of coalitions in parliamentary democracies compels researchers to study them more closely. The Comparative Politics literature investigates, in particular, the dynamics of coalition formation and termination, as well as the domestic policy outputs of coalitions, especially compared to governments ruled by a single party.
Coalitions have generated interest on the International Relations front as well. One avenue of research transcends the “political party” as a building block and conceptualizes coalitions as a “decision unit” by focusing on the group of veto players in a regime’s foreign policy apparatus. Another line of scholarship, situated in the “Democratic Peace” framework, looks at coalitions as a domestic-institutional factor to observe their effects on the likelihood of international conflict.
Departing from the “Democratic Peace” tradition, more recent research in Foreign Policy Analysis rejuvenates the study of coalitions in international politics. This literature not only encourages theory development by scrutinizing why coalitions behave differently than single-parties in the international arena but also bridges the gap between International Relations and Comparative Politics. Emphasizing the organic relationship between domestic politics and foreign policy, foreign policy researchers dissect coalition governments to highlight the role political parties play on foreign policy formulation and implementation. This literature also illustrates the merits of methodological plurality in studying foreign policy. Using a combination of comparative case studies, process tracing, Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and regression modeling, it sheds light not only on the broader trends that characterize coalition foreign policy but also on the causal mechanisms and contextual factors which often go unaccounted for in purely statistical analyses. The recent advances in role and image theories in Foreign Policy Analysis are expected to influence the study of coalitions and their foreign policies, offering an interpretivist take alongside this positivist trajectory.
Ever since Aristotle, the comparative study of political regimes and their performance has relied on classifications and typologies. The study of democracy today has been influenced heavily by Arend Lijphart’s typology of consensus versus majoritarian democracy. Scholars have applied it to more than 100 countries and sought to demonstrate its impact on no less than 70 dependent variables. This paper summarizes our knowledge about the origins, functioning, and consequences of two basic types of democracy: those that concentrate power and those that share and divide power. In doing so, it will review the experience of established democracies and question the applicability of received wisdom to new democracies.
Research on constitutional law has come in different waves mirroring the development of states in recent decades. While the decolonization period of the 1960s still kept the old ties of constitutional “families,” comparison based on such ties has become ever less persuasive since the 1980s wave of constitution making following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Research about de facto and de jure constitutional law now tends to embrace institutional details like judicial review powers and procedures of direct democracy. The field of comparative constitutional law is controversial both in methods and substance. It still lacks a consistent framework of comparative tools and is criticized as illegitimate by scholars who insist on the interpretive autonomy within each constitutional system.
Research in the area of fundamental rights has to deal with long-lasting controversies like the constitutionality of the death penalty. Bioethical regulation is another new field where constitutional positions tend to diverge rather than converge. Embryonic stem cell research, therapeutic cloning, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, and surrogate motherhood are examples from biotechnology and reproductive medicine where constitutional scholars disagree about what, if anything, constitutional law can contribute to provide a basis or limit for regulation. With the worldwide rise of constitutional courts and judicial review, the standards for the interpretation of fundamental rights become more important. Legal scholarship has worked out the differences between the rule-oriented approach associated with Anglo-American legal systems versus the principle-based approach common to continental Europe.
Gabriel L. Negretto
Constitution-making has been a central political activity in the modern era. Enacting a new constitution was an essential ingredient in the foundation of republics, the creation of new states, the inauguration of democratic regimes, and the reequilibration of democracies during or after a political crisis. Constitution writing has also become a crucial part of the process of overcoming a legacy of violent internal conflict and a component of authoritarian regimes that seek to gain legitimacy by emulating the formalities of representative democracies. This article surveys the most important concepts and issues related to the comparative analysis of constitution-making. Although it draws examples from constitutions made in a wide variety of settings, special attention is paid to constitutional texts adopted or implemented under competitive conditions.
Scholarship on the relationship between domestic institutions and foreign policy is driven by the assumption that a state’s domestic political arrangement can explain important aspects of its foreign policy behavior. Democratic domestic institutions, in particular, are thought to be significant for explaining an important set of outcomes. Research shows, for example, that democracies tend to cooperate with each other; uphold their commitments; make more effective threats; engage in fewer wars with each other (but do fight non-democracies quite frequently); perform better in the wars in which they are involved; and tend to fight wars of shorter duration.
Studying the impact of democratic domestic institutions on foreign policy has developed along two broad lines. The first and most established approach is rooted in the basic distinction between democracies and non-democracies. In this view, democratic institutions constrain leaders in a way that produces distinct democratic foreign policy patterns. This approach has yielded a tremendous amount of research and insight into democratic foreign policy, but also suffers from several important shortcomings. One is that democracy tends to be correlated with a host of other variables, making it difficult to specify what exactly it is about democracy that explains certain foreign policy outcomes. A second and related critique of this approach is that it tends to treat democracy uniformly when in fact there is often great variation in democratic domestic institutions across cases.
A second and more recent approach focuses on the differences among democracies and seeks to explain how this variation, in turn, creates variation in foreign policy behavior. Democracies differ in terms of their underlying institutional arrangements in a variety of ways, including whether they have presidential or parliamentary systems, autonomous or constrained executives, and open or closed institutions to modulate the flow of information between leaders and citizens, among others. Even within a country, there can be a different set of institutional constraints on democratic leaders depending on the given foreign policy instrument they seek to employ. Studying these variations and their impact on policy processes and outcomes provides great promise for further unpacking the relationship between domestic democratic institutions and foreign policy.
Diplomacy’s role in foreign policy is hampered by multiple understandings of what diplomacy is and does. A broad definition of diplomacy holds that it encompasses more than the promotion of peaceful international relations. Instead, it applies to the sum of those relations—peaceful, hostile, and everything in between. Thus, foreign relations—so long as they involve the interests, direction, and actions of a sovereign power—may be regarded as being synonymous with diplomatic relations, whereby foreign policy relates to the theory and practice of setting diplomatic priorities; planning for contingencies; advancing strategic, operational, and tactical diplomatic aims; and adjusting those aims to domestic and foreign constraints. This conception of diplomacy is functional: it emphasizes the roles of diplomats and recognizes that many other people perform these roles besides official envoys; and it illustrates that diplomatic settings—and the means, methods, and tools of diplomacy—undergo continuous change. The basic mediating purpose of diplomacy, however, has endured, as has much of its institutional apparatus—embassies, ambassadors, treaties, and so on. This is likely to remain the case so long as there are multiple polities in the world, all having to relate to one another.
Stephanie J. Rickard
Policies as diverse as tariffs, exchange rates, and unemployment insurance vary across democratic countries. In an attempt to explain this cross-national variation, scholars have turned to the institutions that govern countries’ elections. The institutions that regulate elections, also known as an electoral system, vary significantly across democracies. Can these varied electoral institutions explain the diversity of policies observed? This question remains unanswered. Despite a growing body of research, little consensus exists as to precisely how electoral institutions affect policy. Why is it so difficult to untangle the effects of electoral institutions on economic policy? One reason for the confusion may be the imprecise manner in which electoral institutions are often measured. Better measures of electoral systems may improve our understanding of their policy effects. Improved theories that clarify the causal mechanism(s) linking electoral systems to policy outcomes will also help to clarify the relationship between electoral systems and policies. To better understand the policy effects of electoral institutions, both theoretical and empirical work must take seriously contextual factors, such as geography, which likely mediate the effects of electoral institutions. Finally, different types of empirical evidence are needed to shed new light on the policy effects of electoral institutions. It is difficult to identify the effects of electoral systems in cross-national studies because of the many other factors that vary across countries. Examining within-country variations, such as changes in district magnitude, may provide useful new insights regarding the effects of electoral institutions on policy.
Josep M. Colomer
The classical analytical category of “empire,” as opposed to “state,” “city,” “federation,” and other political forms, can account for a large number of historical and current experiences, including the past United States of America, the European Union, Russia, and China. An “empire” has been conceived, in contrast to a “state,” as a very large size polity with a government formed on movable frontiers, with multiple institutional levels, overlapping jurisdictions, and asymmetric relations between the center and the diverse territorial units.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
While some women have been successful in promoting a feminist agenda in parliament, the research shows that this is not always a realistic expectation of women. Parliaments, as institutions, have specific cultural norms and practices, some of which actively work against women’s ability to advance gender equality. Understanding the conditions under which women—and men—parliamentarians might be successful in promoting gender equality outcomes has become an important avenue for research and development practice. The focus on gender-sensitive parliaments allows for a framework to identify and encourage the development of those conditions.
There are four key elements of a gender-sensitive parliament. First, it accepts that the responsibility to achieve gender equality, both as a policy outcome and as a process, rests with the parliament as a whole—its male and female Members and staff—and with the organizations that drive substantial policy development: political parties. Second, a gender-sensitive parliament is guided by overarching policies and legal frameworks, which allow the parliament to monitor its achievements towards gender equality and allow for follow up and review. Third, a gender-sensitive parliament institutionalizes a gender mainstreaming approach through its plenary debates, question sessions, committees, and caucuses to ensure that all policy and legislative reviews interrogate any potential discrimination against women or men, girls or boys. Finally, a gender-sensitive parliament fosters a culture of respect for women and their right to be an equal member of parliament.