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Stepan and Skach: Presidentialism and Parliamentarism Compared

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Stepan and Skach. 1994. Presidentialism and Parliamentarism Compared. in The Failure of Presidential Democracy (ch 1), Linz and Valenzuela, eds. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

In Brief

Pure parliamentarianism is more conduce to consolidation than pure presidentialism. Why? (1) Govts are more likely to have a majority backing them, which can implement their programs; (2) parliaments can rule better when there are multiple parties; (3) executives are less likely to rule "at the edge of the constitution"; (4) if they do, it is easier to remove them; (5) parliaments are less susceptible to military coups; (6) parliamentarism does better at providing "long party or government careers, which add loyalty and experience to political society." Thus, politicians have more "degrees of they attempt to consolidate democracy."

A typology of "pure presidentialism" and "pure parliamentarism" along two variables:

  1. chief executive requires legislature's confidence (parl.) or not (pres.)
  2. legislature can be dissolved by executive (parl.) or not (pres.)


Shows that countries that start independence as parliamentary systems are more likely to become or remain democracies than countries that start as presidential systems. Generally, this article contributes to the literature finding that presidential democracies don't live as long as parliamentary ones. Argues that this may be a result of the failure of presidents to get legislative backing (i.e. divided government) and deadlock (but see Cheibub for rebuttal). See Mainwaring and Shugart (1997, p 18 especially) for a rebuttal.

Comments and Criticisms

Not much of a theoretical argument: more of just an analysis of data, with some possible logical explanations. Problem: how do they justify measuring their variables the way they do without a theoretical construct? Since the authors lack a clear theoretical construct of "parliamentarism" and "presidentialism," this causes problems in their operationalizations. They switch back and forth between comparing governments that are constitutionally presidential with constitutional parliaments (whether they are democratic or not, as in Table 4.5) and comparing presidential democracies and parliamentary democracies. Considering that, as they say at the beginning, democratizing states have only recently begun trying presidentialism instead of parliamentarism, that means that not controlling for whether a state is democratic (a ridiculous thing not to control for) puts 'only' authoritarian states in the "presidential" category, but a mix of authoritarian and democratic states in the "parliamentary" category. Gee...which set of these will turn out to be more democratic, the presidential ones or the parliamentary ones? They appear to be cherry-picking data to make their point against presidentialism.

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Stepan, Alfred (author)Skach, Cindy (author)Comparative PoliticsPresidentialismParliamentsRegime Type

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