Presidents, Parties, Prime Ministers

Please visit the site for the forthcoming Samuels and Shugart book. There you may download the “final” drafts, chapter by chapter. Comments very much welcome, whether here or at our university e-mail addresses (linked at the site).

A Framework for Analysis

David J. Samuels
Matthew S. Shugart

Forthcoming, Cambridge University Press

The arrangement of the terms in the title summarizes the main conclusions of the book: Presidents above parties; parties above prime ministers.

In other words, where there is a directly elected president, the political parties become “presidentialized,” meaning that the way they organize and behave in elections and governance is shaped by the dynamics of the separation of powers. On the other hand, in parliamentary democracy, prime ministers are clearly subordinate to parties. These different authority lines have several observable implications, and the book is devoted to systematic worldwide empirical testing of those implications.

A majority of the world’s democracies since around the year 2000 have had directly elected presidencies (Figure 1.1, which is also posted at the book’s website), yet our theories of political parties remain largely grounded in either the West European parliamentary experience, or American-centric theories that often implicitly assume away the impact of the presidency. Thus “catching up” theory with the real world is one of the underlying purposes of the book. So is subsuming the US case within the broader comparative politics enterprise.

An important further finding of the book is that when there is both an elected president and a parliamentary-dependent prime minister–a semi-presidential system–the president remains “above all”; in fact, the prime minister becomes subordinate to the president, as long as the presidentialized party has effective control of parliament. In our analysis of semi-presidential systems, we confirm that the premier-presidential subtype (where the PM’s formal accountability is exclusively to the parliamentary majority) results in effective subordination of the cabinet to the parliamentary majority, when the latter is controlled by the president’s opposition. Yet even these “cohabitation” phases remain presidentialized in important respects; they also account for barely over one fifth of all presidential tenure in premier-presidential systems. (They account for only about 2% in the other suybtype, president-parliamentary; we confirm that this latter subtype is almost totally presidentialized.)

The book is oriented theoretically by the neo-Madisonian framework. The empirical scope is worldwide, including every country that has met basic democratic criteria for at least five consecutive years since 1946 (see Table 2.1). We analyze the impact of different executive-legislative structures on the selection and de-selection of presidents and prime ministers, the impact of institutional variation on electoral “fusion of purpose” (constituency overlap), and the propensity for electoral mandates to be violated (by a “policy switch”). Two chapters contain paired case studies: one demonstrates the immediate presidentialization of parties that resulted from the adoption of direct executive elections in France and Israel (and the subsequent reversal when parliamentarism was re-adopted in the latter country); the other demonstrates the impact of presidentialization on the electoral and governing experiences of two long-time opposition parties in presidential systems, the (leftist) Workers Party in Brazil and the (rightist) National Action in Mexico.

The conclusion notes several broader implications, and also calls attention to a trend: while abolition of an existing directly elected executive almost never occurs in democracies (in addition to Israel, the only other case is Moldova), some countries have adopted reforms intended to limit the president’s formal powers over the cabinet. These reforms may indicate dissatisfaction with party presidentialization, though our overarching conclusion would be that continued presidentialization is likely to prevail, even if it can be attenuated somewhat (for instance by moving to premier-presidentialism).

20 thoughts on “Presidents, Parties, Prime Ministers

  1. I suppose a disclaimer is in order: The above summary was written only by me, and may not reflect the views of my co-author. However, I certainly hope it (mostly) represents David’s views!

  2. Congratulations! But… no chapter on pruning of in-season apricots? You’re content to leave Cesar Chavez as the sole Google Books link for California + politics + fruit?

  3. On p158, you speak about Israel’s ‘(unwritten) parliamentary constitution’. Strictly that’s not accurate.

    At least part of the constitution is written in all three constitutionless democracies, although it is mainly ordinary legislation that can be changed at will by parliament. It would be better to speak about Israel’s uncodified constitution.

  4. “A majority of the world’s democracies since around the year 2000 have had directly elected presidencies”

    Would they do that if they listened more to academics, I wonder…

    Here in Norway, as you probably know (I only found out recently) the constitution was recently amended to unify the two chambers of stortinget. A significant change, that I’m personally fine with, but the things they replace it with (some quorum rules) has hardly been discussed in the national media at all, as far as I can tell.

  5. Alan–fair point. The terminology we use there is conventional in political science, which is not at all the same as saying it is accurate. I rather like “uncodified” (though then that would have to be explained, and the point is tangential for us).

    Harald–good question, and the answer is probably ‘no’ (though I am far more agnostic about this question than most academics, focusing more on variation within the various ‘presidentialisms’).

    Regarding Norway, I think I was vaguely aware there had been a change. But it was already more unicameral than bicameral, anyway. (Am I right to recall that the Storting was elected as if one chamber, but then constituted itself into two?)

    Are you saying it will be a straightforward unicameral legislature now? Good move, I would think. Interesting that it would not be perceived in Norway as more consequential, but then again the preceding arrangement may have been the inconsequential one.

  6. Thanks for posting this.

    I enjoyed the chapter on Mexico and Brazil, but the case studies left me wondering what it all means moving forward. Lula’s dominance of the PT for several decades, even as he has moved away from their preferred policy positions, ends in two years. Does the PT go the route of the PAN and try to nominate someone closer on policy even though it likely means losing the presidency. Or do they go with a Lula-named successor in hopes of winning, even if it’s not a perfect policy match? Does the center-right in Brazil allow a presidential candidate to move closer to Lula’s policies and away from the party base in order to win? How will Mexico’s PAN judge their experience with nominating Calderon if he can’t get the legislation his party wants through the Congress? The speculation on how the theories apply to the future probably doesn’t go in the book, but would make for a good blog post or three.

  7. Still reading, you may want to mention the slightly odd arrangement in Namibia somewhere. Namibia’s president is elected separately but the president and the assembly can each force an election if they are prepared to face election themselves. And it really is time for an Indonesian planting…

  8. Those are great questions, boz, that I have wondered about, too. The book points out the questions, but can’t offer answers to those sorts of speculations. But maybe there will be some ideas sprouting along those lines as the nomination cycles approach in those countries (or around Mexico’s upcoming midterm legislative elections).

    Alan, on Namibia, I know. This was noted in Presidents and Assemblies, and more recently in my French Politics article. It is a bit too much idiosyncratic detail for a book like the current one, especially as long as one party remains hegemonic. Perhaps in the future we’ll have some questions like those for Brazil in Mexico apply to Namibia.

    Indonesia, yes, aware. So little time…

    Thanks for reading the chapters and commenting!

  9. I tried to get Shugart to include a chapter on pluots and hybrid taiwanese tangerines, but all he ever wants to talk about is presidential elections rules. The guy has no life – he needs help! 🙂

  10. Ah, David, that’s just not fair! Haven’t you ever noticed how my eyes light up when someone says the words, “mixed member”?

  11. Like I said before… “Mandarins and Mandarines”.

    Or something about Russia’s Yabloko party?

  12. One is tempted to say that raising the mixed member without a condom inevitably leads to STV, but as this is a respectable and serious blog one will forfend.

  13. The book could be used in upper-division undergrad courses (on parties, comparative democracy, etc.).

    (I’ll have to check on the link to chap 6; thanks for the heads-up, Tom. I thought I had verified them all, but perhaps not.)

  14. The grouping Alan links to should take their place in the annals of other Liberal Party of Australia double-entendres, like Bert Kelly’s “Modest Members” group and Billy Snedden’s “I’m a Liberal Lover” badges.

    (Snedden died in bed with his son’s ex[-]girlfriend. Another LPA leader, Harold Holt, saw his girlfriend marry his father. Very Oedipal bunch.)

  15. I just came across this book manuscript as I was looking for an analysis of the impact of presidential systems on parties. This is a wonderful piece of research. You (David and Matt) have really tied many loose ropes together and given us a lot of interesting things to think about. I appreciate your efforts.


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