A Different Democracy

The draft chapters for a co-authored book project in which I am involved are posted on my academic pages for anyone who might be interested.


A Systematic Comparison of the American System with 30 Other Democracies

By Steven L. Taylor, Matthew S. Shugart, Arend Lijphart, and Bernard Grofman

It is often said that the United States has an exceptional democracy. To what degree is this claim empirically true? If it is true, in what ways is US democracy different and do those differences matter? What explanations exist for these differences?

The study examines the choices made by the designers of the US government at the Philadelphia convention of 1787 and the institutional structures that evolved from those choices and compares them to 30 other democracies. The basic topics for comparison are as follows: constitutions, federalism, political parties, elections, interest groups, legislative power, executive power, judicial power, bureaucracies, and public policy.

Each chapter starts with a discussion of the feasible option set available on each type of institutional choice and the choices made by the US founders as a means of introducing the concepts, as well as discussing how specific choices made in the US led to particular outcomes. This is done by looking at the discussions on these topics from the Federalist Papers and the debates from the Philadelphia Convention. This approach allows a means of explaining the concepts in a comparative fashion (e.g., federal v. unitary government, unicameralism v. bicameralism, etc.) before moving into the comparisons of the US system to our other 30 democracies, which make up the second half of each chapter. Each chapter contains an explicit list of specific differences between the US and the other democracies as well as comparative data in tabular and graphical formats. The current draft of our book has 64 tables, 16 figures, and 10 text boxes. All of the figures and tables contain comprehensive comparative data featuring all 31 cases (save in a handful of instances) or specific thematic subsets of the 31 cases (e.g., presidential systems or bicameral legislatures).

The book is now under contract with Yale University Press.

Comments are welcome (but act fast!).

5 thoughts on “A Different Democracy

  1. Lovely book and quite a set of authors. Most Americans don’t grasp how idiosyncratic their country is; they still won’t as books like this don’t reach a wide audience, but maybe it’ll better equip a few to explain how weird we are.

    I really like the effective number of units measure for federations; it’s hand to have a way to put population disparities and the corresponding representative ones in perspective.

    The only thing that stood out to me is that John Dickinson’s plan for the constitution doesn’t appear in the second chapter. This is entirely reasonable as it’s very obscure and he never actually proposed it, only wrote it in his papers. I just have a certain affection for it because of how baroque it is. The lower house was to have 3-year terms with a third replaced annually and the upper 7-year terms with a seventh replaced annually. The executive was to have 3 members with 7-year terms, also staggered. It’s a hoot that only somebody who was briefly simultaneously President of both Delaware and Pennsylvania could have devised.

  2. And I thought India was the only federation that lets the same person be governor of two or more States at once…

  3. Tom: that was back in the years when Pennsylvania and Delaware had a state union not unlike the late Serbia and Montenegro… but that situation ended before 1787.

  4. I’m reading through it a bit at a time right now and I just the chapter on elections. I’m rather disappointed that there was hardly any mention of any ranked preference methods other than AV, and even that — a footnote to an appendix — doesn’t name any of them. From reading the main text you’d think ranked choice simply was AV, as if no other way of counting had ever been devised. If you had intended to limit yourself to methods used in “real life”, you should have included Bucklin.

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