Presidentialization

[As long as I made a tweet storm in response to, first, a tweet by Ezra Klein, and then a question by Nicholas Smith, I might as well turn it into a blog post. Process made easy by the Spooler app.]

First the preliminaries and context that got it all going…

Great question! A short thread on “personalization” and “presidentialization” of political parties…

Matthew Shugart

Yes, existing to promote and protect the leader who was separately elected to the country’s top office is the very definition of a presidentialized party (Samuels and Shugart, 2010).

The US, during this presidency, finally has become a more normal presidential democracy. https://twitter.com/ezraklein/status/1177244610931781634 

Ezra Klein

@ezraklein

There is nothing “conservative” about the Republican Party we’re seeing in these hearings. It’s a party that exists to promote and protect Donald Trump.

Nicholas Smith @_SmithNicholas_

What step in the process is it when parties are being created and collapsing solely around a party leader (e.g. IL, UA, FR)?

_____________________ Now for the thread (lightly edited)…

Personalization can happen under any type of democratic political system. In brief, it means that the election turns on the assessment of the leader, rather than on a platform, issues, ideology, or long-run party ID.

Presidentialization is something more. It is the leader becoming the de-facto principal over the party once elected (or even once nominated). It is the selection of an executive candidate who may not share the values of the party because the party needs someone who can win.

This can happen in parliamentary systems, but it is much less likely. It can be avoided in presidential systems, but it is harder to avoid. Why? Parl party leader, including PM (normally) remains accountable to the party (in the legislature). A president, by definition, does not. Presidents and legislative parties, by definition, can have distinct electoral coalitions. But the more they approach being identical, the more likely it is that the party falls in line behind the president, even if the pres. is taking the party places it otherwise would not go. That is, the party legislators’ fates become tied to the fate of the executive. In principle, it remains the reverse in a parliamentary system.

HOWEVER, there are exceptions. Corbyn, maybe Johnson, look pretty “presidentialized” as party leaders (and the latter as PM). There is obviously some degree of separation that has developed in these parties lately, due in part to unusual leadership selection rules and circumstances. However, of course, the voting remains fused–separation can’t extend to how voters vote for party & executive. The original tweet I am responding to mentioned cases of newly formed parties, whereas above I have referred mostly to established parties. Let’s take the mentioned examples

Israel. Blue & White can be seen as a personal vehicle for Gantz to be PM. But it is an alliance. The internal partners are also personal vehicles (Lapid, etc.). A key point is Gantz needed pre-electoral and now post-electoral allies if he is to head the government. Gantz, or any head of a parliamentary party/alliance, can’t present himself to the electorate separately from the party system, as is possible in a presidential or semi-presidential system. He has to get the nomination of an existing party, or form a new one, and the party must win seats.

(Semi-presidential = a popularly elected presidency AND a premier who depends on the confidence of a majority of the assembly. They vary a lot in the constitutional powers of the presidency.)

France. Semi-presidential. Macron formed an entirely new party, totally beholden to him. And benefited from the fact that assembly elections come AFTER presidential. It is sort of presidentialization on steroids!

See (and my earlier posts linked within): (fruitsandvotes.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/fra…)

(Because it’s semi-presidential and not “pure” presidential, he did need his party to do well in assembly elections, in order to be able to choose an ally as PM. In a pure presidential system, one can control the executive without a party, though one would rather have allies in congress, obviously.)

Ukraine. Also semi-presidential. I also wrote about Servant of the President. Oops, I mean to say Servant of the People, here. (fruitsandvotes.wordpress.com/2019/07/21/ukr…)

2 thoughts on “Presidentialization

  1. Given that there is a federal Canadian election campaign, its worth pointing out that the younger Trudeau in Canada is also a pretty good example.

    First, he became leader of the Liberal Party after the party’s historically worst federal election defeat and its first ever third place result, so the Liberals, which were never that program-oriented to begin with, were definitely in the “we just want someone who can win ” mode. Trudeau hand selected much of the federal caucus, and one thing from the SNC Lavelin scandal is how much the party values personal loyalty to Trudeau himself. One thing that has not happened is that they have not deviated from the standard center-left Liberal progrm but everything else about presidentialization fits.

    Despite pretty much creating the modern version of the federal Canadian conservative party, you get the sense that there is more going on with the CPC than promoting Stephen Harper, so Trudeau’s predecessor isn’t as good an example.

  2. With an Austrian federal election taking place today, it’s probably also worth noting that two and a half years ago, Sebastian Kurz was able to hold his own party to ransom based on the polls at the time (i.e. win the election with me as leader, or finish third without me). That is another good example of this phenomenon. He was even successful in getting the federal party to change its branding from black to turquoise!

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