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Der Open-Access-Publikationsserver der ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft

The Open Access Publication Server of the ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics

Fuchs, Dieter

Working Paper

Types and indices of democratic


Veröffentlichungsreihe der Abteilung Institutionen und Sozialer Wandel des

Forschungsschwerpunkts Sozialer Wandel, Institutionen und Vermittlungsprozesse des

Wissenschaftszentrums Berlin für Sozialforschung, No. FS III 01-203

Provided in cooperation with:

Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB) Suggested citation: Fuchs, Dieter (2001) : Types and indices of democratic regimes, Veröffentlichungsreihe der Abteilung Institutionen und Sozialer Wandel des Forschungsschwerpunkts Sozialer Wandel, Institutionen und Vermittlungsprozesse des Wissenschaftszentrums Berlin für Sozialforschung, No. FS III 01-203, http:// hdl.handle.net/10419/49008

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zbw Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft Leibniz Information Centre for Economics Veröffentlichungsreihe der Abteilung Institutionen und sozialer Wandel des Forschungsschwerpunktes Sozialer Wandel, Institutionen und Vermittlungsprozesse des Wissenschaftszentrums Berlin für Sozialforschung ISSN 1615-7559 FS III 01-203 Types and Indices of Democratic Regimes Dieter Fuchs Berlin, Oktober 2001 Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung gGmbH (WZB) Reichpietschufer 50, D-10785 Berlin, Telefon: (030) 25 49 1-0


Fuchs, Dieter, 2001:

Types and Indices of Democratic Regimes.

Discussion Paper FS III 01-203.

Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB).

Zusammenfassung Die Demokratie wird heute nahezu weltweit als die einzig legitime Herrschaftsordnung angesehen. Daß sie in unterschiedlicher Weise institutionalisiert werden kann, führt zu der Frage, welche Form der Demokratie besser oder schlechter ist. Diese Frage kann normativ beantwortet werden, aber auch auf der Grundlage von empirisch feststellbaren Performanzen. Letzteres setzt aber eine theoretische Konzeptualisierung unterschiedlicher Typen demokratischer Regime voraus und die Operationalisierung dieser Typen durch Indizes. Das ist das Thema der Analyse. Typen und Indizes demokratischer Regime werden vor dem Hintergrund eines theoretischen Rahmens miteinander verglichen. Sie werden zu zwei allgemeineren Ansätzen zusammengefasst: dem PräsidentialismusParlamentarismus- und dem Veto-Spieler-Ansatz. Das ermöglicht auch einen Vergleich dieser unterschiedlichen Vorgehensweisen bei der Konstruktion von Typen und Indizes demokratischer Regime.


Today democracy is seen as the only legitimate form of government almost all over the world. That it can be institutionalized differently leads to the question which kind of democracy might be better or worse. This question can be answered normatively, but also on the basis of different performances that can be determined empirically. The latter requires an adequate theoretical conceptualization of types of democratic regimes and the operationalization of these types in the form of indices. This is the subject of the analysis. Types and indices of democratic regimes that figure in the current comparative and empirical research on democracy are compared against the background of a theoretical framework.

They are categorized as presidentialism-parliamentarism-approaches or veto-playerapproaches. Thereby, the analysis implies a comparison of these two basic approaches to the construction of types and indices of democratic regimes.

Dieter Fuchs Types and Indices of Democratic Regimes

1. The Issue Which form of government is the better and which the worse? Aristotle asked this question in the 4th century B.C. and his systematic attempt to answer it in ‘Politics’ can be considered the beginning of political science. With some brief interruptions, the attention of the discipline has since focussed on this issue. The first decades after the Second World War – when structural-functional and behaviourist approaches predominated in the social sciences – experienced one such interruption. Political institutions as the constitutive elements of forms of government were considered as epiphenomena bereft of independent explanatory value (Rothstein 1996). It therefore seemed unnecessary to make a systematic distinction between different institutional arrangements and to undertake the empirical analysis of their effects. The only important distinction drawn was between democracy and autocracy, and in this regard – at least from a Western point of view – it was clear from the outset which was the superior form of government.

Since the beginning of the eighties, there has been a renaissance in the study of political institutions. Probably the most important reason has been the ‘third wave’ of democratisation (Huntington 1991), i.e., the replacement of autocracies by democracies in many countries around the world. This democratisation wave reached a climax with the collapse of the communist system in the countries of central and eastern Europe. Since a democracy can be institutionalised in different ways, these countries face the question which of the existing forms of democracy ought to be introduced. In view of the problems of governability and legitimation, however, there is discussion in countries with an established democracy, too, about whether the form implemented in the country concerned is the most appropriate. The classical question of political science has thus been taken up again, this time, however, only in comparing different forms of democratic government and not all possible forms of government.

A useful starting point in selecting and designing political institutions is previous experience with their impact in the real world. In this field, however, empirical research has so far supplied ambiguous and sometimes even contradictory findings (Tsebelis 1995).

There are two main reasons for this unsatisfactory state of affairs. First, some typologies of the institutional structure of democracies and the indices based on them have insufficient theoretical grounding. The result is a certain arbitrariness in the selection and operationalization of structural characteristics. Second, the problems addressed differ considerably.

Many more recent studies in which institutional variables play a role are concerned with providing the most complete possible explanation for the outcomes of political processes.

Such an approach ‘…takes policy outcomes as its primary concern and works its way backward to institutional and partisan characteristics that are responsible for the production of specific policy outcomes’ (Tsebelis 1999: 591). However, if the primary concern is the quality of different forms of democracy, the procedure must be reversed. Instead of working backward from policy outcomes to institutional and other characteristics that explain them, it is necessary to work forward from institutional characteristics – and only from these – to policy outcomes.

The question of the quality of different forms of democracy is relevant from the practical point of view for, among other things, the intentional introduction of a new or the reformation of an old system of government. This practical political relevance requires the focus of interest to be narrowed still further. Only institutional arrangements that can be laid down constitutionally can be deliberately designed. It is not by chance that in his study of ‘constitutional engineering’ Sartori (1994a) is concerned only with the constitutional characteristics of democracies. Lijphart (1984, 1999), too, who has relied strongly on characteristics of the party system and of actor constellations in his analyses of contemporary democracies, has restricted his consideration of ‘constitutional choices’ (1991) and of ‘institutional design’ (1996) largely to constitutional characteristics. However, apart from the question of practical political relevance, it can in principle also be argued that a theoretically plausible concept of institution cannot be developed on the basis of empirically verifiable regularities but only with recourse to legally codified normative expectations of behaviour (Fuchs 1999).

The following study has two aims. The first step is a theoretical-deductive attempt to determine different types of democratic institutional arrangements. We use the established concept of democratic regime (Easton 1979) to refer to these institutional arrangements.

The second step is to discuss the most important indices of democratic regimes used in comparative democracy studies in this theoretical framework. The indices concerned are Shugart/Carey’s (1992) and Sartori’s (1994a, 1994b) presidentialism - parliamentarism indices, and several indices that can be allocated to the veto-player approach. They include the ‘index of constitutional structure’ (Huber et al. 1993), the ‘index of institutional pluralism’ (Colomer 1996), the ‘institutional constraints of central state government’ (Schmidt 1996), and an index constructed on the basis of a study by Tsebelis (1995). Lijphart’s (1999) two indices, each of which deals with a dimension of his fundamental distinction between majoritarian and consensus democracy (the ‘executive-parties index’ and the ‘federal-unitary index’), are to be considered as belonging to the veto-player approach. For the sake of simplicity we use the authors’ names when referring to the indices. In this second step our main concern is to establish what the different indices measure at all and to what extent they are suitable for analysing the quality of different types of democratic regime.

2. Typology Construction

Our study is ultimately concerned with the quality of different forms of democracy. Any discussion of this issue presupposes the definition of such forms, and this is generally done by constructing typologies. In empirical democracy research, a multitude of democratic regime typologies has meanwhile been proposed, none of which has, however, managed to gain general acceptance. The most commonly employed is that of Lijphart (1984, 1999), but this, too, needs discussing, as we will be showing in the course of our analysis. These typologies raise at least three serious problems that impose explicit decisions.

The first has already been mentioned in the introduction. It is neither very fruitful nor very informative to construct a typology of democratic regimes per se, as is often attempted by comparative government studies in the classification of constitutions. What characteristics must or can be taken into account depends essentially on the question to be answered. Is the primary concern the effects of different types of democracy – and thus indirectly their quality – or the explanation of policy?

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