This is the second of three guest posts by Professor John Carey. The posts are based on the keynote address that he gave to the Conference on Coalitional Presidentialism at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, on May 2, 2014.
Presidentialism 25 Years After Linz
In a spasm of curiosity, I collected data on regime type (presidential, parliamentary, or semi-presidential hybrid) from Robert Elgie’s website for 131 countries with populations above 1,000,000. Of these 41 are parliamentary, 43 are presidential, and 47 are hybrids. 97 of the 131 (34, 33, and 30, respectively) had Polity scores of 5 or higher in the most recent year. Then I collected data from the World Bank, Polity IV, the United Nations, and Transparency International on the most recent annual measures on a wide range of regime performance and policy outputs that I think any sentient observer ought to care about: levels of democracy and stability, poverty, economic inequality, taxation, corruption, physical insecurity, and the rule of law.
Parliamentary regimes are, on the whole, wealthier than presidential ones and than hybrids. This graph shows the distributions of Purchasing Power Parity across the regime types:
A lot of the performance indicators I’m going to look at here are correlated with national wealth, the distribution of which is skewed and the effects of which are likely subject to diminishing returns. So the graphs that follow will be scatterplots, and some fitted plots, of various outcomes we should care about against a log transformation of per capita wealth. Presidential regimes are marked by red Xs, parliamentary regimes by green dots, and hybrid regimes by blue triangles. We can look quickly at the scatters and size up whether one regime type or another is over-performing or under-performing, relative to others at the same level of wealth.
Looking first at democracy levels, as measured by Polity IV. Wealthier countries are more democratic, but there’s no clear pattern of any of our three regime types systematically over- or under-performing.
The same is true for regime stability, as measured by the World Bank’s Stability Perceptions Index, which reflects“perceptions of the likelihood that the government will be destabilized or overthrown by unconstitutional or violent means, including politically-motivated violence and terrorism.”
So – so far, my crude, cross-sectional snapshots are consistent with the more systematic evidence presented by Cheibub and others that presidentialism, per se, is not inconsistent with democratic stability. But when we look at some further indicators of regime performance – again, with my crude measures – the picture for presidentialism is less encouraging.
Taxation is the cornerstone of government capacity to deliver public goods. We know that wealthier states tend to tax at higher rates, and of course parliamentary regimes are better represented at that end of the scale. Nevertheless, if we look at the distribution of regimes above and below the best linear fit line, parliamentary regimes are about twice as likely to be over-performers than under-performers, and for presidential regimes, the reverse is true.
In this plot, the green line shows the linear fit for the relationship between per capita wealth and taxation for presidential regimes, and the blue line shows parliamentary and hybrids pooled, and we can see that the positive relationship is driven by the latter set.
We might ask whether the distinct patterns for presidential and other regimes are driven by the inclusion of non-democratic cases, but dropping all regimes with Polity scores below 5 only strengthens it. Wealthier presidential democracies actually tax marginally less as a share of GDP than do poorer ones; the reverse is true among parliamentary and hybrid regimes.
Maybe the tax share of GDP is not an ideal measure of government accountability. Let’s consider some other things that are affected by government policies in pursuit of public welfare. The next graph shows Gini indices of economic inequality plotted against per capita wealth.
There’s substantial dispersion but, on the whole, wealthier societies are slightly less unequal than poorer ones. But again, look at the relative distribution of presidential, as opposed to parliamentary regimes above and below the best fit line. Or easier, here are the linear fits for presidential regimes and for the pooled set of parliamentary and hybrids.
Economic inequality rises with wealth among presidential regimes whereas it declines in the others. In an article entitled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” forthcoming in Perspective on Politics, but already lighting up the wonkosphre, Gilens and Page make the case that there is massive elite bias in influence over public policy outcomes in the United States. This graph raises the question: Does the Gilens and Page result generalize beyond the United States to other presidential systems?
If we look at poverty rather than economic inequality, we don’t get as dramatic a difference between regime types – richer countries tend to have lower poverty rates across the categories – but presidential regimes again under-perform on poverty mitigation.
There is a discernible difference between presidential regimes and others, with poverty rates about 10% higher across the range of income levels.
Another conventional indicator of government accountability is corruption, so let’s take a look at Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. (Remember, higher TI scores represent less perceived corruption among its survey respondents.)
The pattern here is a little less stark, but the fitted plots suggest that, as countries increase in per capita wealth, the rate of improvement on corruption is flatter among presidential regimes than among parliamentary systems and hybrids.
We get a similar kind of pattern if we consider another key government function – guaranteeing individual physical security. The data here show homicide rates from the comprehensive United Nations report released last month. Again, there’s a general pattern of greater security in richer countries, but the rate of improvement with wealth is flatter among presidential regimes than the others.
Finally, we can look at the less concrete, but more catholic conceptions of Rule of Law, or of Accountability, compiled by the World Bank as Governance Indicators. These are based on a combination of survey responses and expert assessments. On both their Rule of Law index, and their Accountability index, we see the same familiar pattern, with improvement across wealth levels in presidential regimes lagging that in parliamentarism and the hybrids.
I want to emphasize that these scatterplots are just suggestive. I collected the data because, as I thought about what we’ve learned about presidentialism since Linz, I went back to Linz’s essay, and then reviewed much of the literature on presidentialism that followed. In part, I found myself conducting the inevitable scorekeeping exercise. Linz appears to have been more right about some things than others. (By the way, when I’m done playing, I’d be happy to have a record even close to his.) But when you read Linz, why he cared about regime type is never in doubt. So much outstanding research has followed Linz. My words of encouragement as we continue this work is that our scholarship should be as clear as Linz’s was with regard to why we care about the phenomena we study.
John M. Carey is the Wentworth Professor in the Social Sciences, and the chair of the Government Department, at Dartmouth College. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the author of 5 books and of over 50 academic articles on democratic institutions. Research, datasets, and further information about his work are available on his website at http://sites.dartmouth.edu/jcarey/