Parliamentary, not Presidential, Democracy Helps Ease Policy Gridlock



Dismissing Gridlock: A Case for Parliamentary Systems
Pacific Standard


The author, using research from John Gerring and Strom Thacker of Boston University, argues that the blame for the growing policy and legislative gridlock in the United States should fall within its presidential system rather than with the politicians themselves.

In order to compare the relative effectiveness of the two major types of democratic systems, parliamentary and presidential, Gerring and Thacker conducted comprehensive research on roughly 130 countries. They developed 14 outcome measures covering governance issues such as corruption, bureaucratic quality and political stability; as well as economic and human development indicators including GDP, life expectancy, literacy and others.

Their findings showed that 'parliamentary systems consistently outperformed presidential systems on almost all the measures'. This held across big and small nations as well as culturally heterogeneous and homogenous ones.

They argue that parliamentary systems like those in the UK, Australia and much of Western Europe achieve more productive outcomes because they are not geared as much to conflict and confrontation. They point out that a central feature of presidential systems - the independence of the executive and legislative branches and the many check and balances between them - produces a number of veto points in the decision and legislative-making process. Rather than promoting or generating compromise, these veto points promote conflict between politicians, parties and the branches of government.

This contrasts with parliamentary systems where the institutional processes and rules are designed to make parties and politicians find compromises and include more interest groups in their decision-making.

Gerring and Thacker conclude that 'Parliamentary systems that institutionalize coordination and compromise consistently produce better outcomes than presidential systems that institutionalize conflict and confrontation'.


Thumbnail image: Parliament House, Canberra. Wilson Afonso/Flickr

Lee Drutman

New America Foundation and John Hopkins University

Published Date
April 20, 2009