Are constitutional monarchies more democratic?

Dylan Matthews, writing in the Washington Post, argues that monarchy makes democracy stronger.

As noted by Ed, who tipped us off to this item in another thread on “ceremonial” heads of state, the piece is above average analytics for a newspaper column. Perhaps faint praise, especially once Nate Silver leaves the NYT, but true, its flights of whimsy notwithstanding.

The piece contains a chart based on data from Petra Schleiter and Edward Morgan-Jones with–get this–an actual link to a political science journal article, though it is gated, of course. The finding that Matthews highlights is that:

in constitutional monarchies, the most common result of governments falling is the calling of new elections. If the old government wasn’t working for whatever reason, the people are given the opportunity to elect another one. In republics, by contrast, it’s more common for there to be a non-electoral replacement, where the existing parliament forms a new governing coalition.

I think this exaggerates somewhat the impact of constitutional monarchy; Schleiter and Morgan-Jones consider many other variables.

There are a few factual errors in Matthews’s article that should be noted, even if they do not necessarily undermine his argument: It is not always the case that wherever the head of government is a prime minister there is a separate head of state (president or monarch). In South Africa, the head of government may be called “president” but is in fact a prime minister (i.e. the head of the winning party/coalition in the legislature, subject to the latter’s confidence). Interwar Estonia had a fused prime minister/head of state. Second, Germany, Israel, Italy, and India do not belong in a list of countries with an “elected president whose powers are mainly ceremonial.” While the text does not say directly or popularly elected, it certainly implies it. (“Either the public or some legislative body selects the president” conflates a lot!)

So, are constitutional monarchies more democratic? Maybe, but I doubt the relationship is causal. And I doubt Matthews actually believes it is, either. But the piece is a good read.

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