Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-5nwft Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-24T22:53:46.160Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Centripetal Democratic Governance: A Theory and Global Inquiry

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 October 2005

Boston University
Boston University
Boston University


Why are some democratic governments more successful than others? What impact do various political institutions have on the quality of governance? This paper develops and tests a new theory of democratic governance. This theory, which we label centripetalism, stands in contrast to the dominant paradigm of decentralism. The centripetal theory of governance argues that democratic institutions work best when they are able to reconcile the twin goals of centralized authority and broad inclusion. At the constitutional level, our theory argues that unitary, parliamentary, and list-PR systems (as opposed to decentralized federal, presidential, and nonproportional ones) help promote both authority and inclusion, and therefore better governance outcomes. We test the theory by examining the impact of centripetalism on eight indicators of governance that range across the areas of state capacity, economic policy and performance, and human development. Results are consistent with the theory and robust to a variety of specifications.

© 2005 by the American Political Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Alesina Alberto, Arnaud Devleeschauwer, William Easterly, Sergio Kurlat, and Romain Wacziarg. 2002. “Fractionalization.” Manuscript Harvard University.
Banks Arthur S. 1994. “Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive.” Center for Social Analysis, State University of New York at Binghamton. Binghamton, New York.
Baylis Thomas A. 1989. Governing By Committee: Collegial Leadership in Advanced Societies. Albany: SUNY Pres.
Beck Nathaniel. 2001. “Time-Series—Cross-Section Data: What Have We Learned in the Last Few Years?Annual Review of Political Science 4: 27193.Google Scholar
Beck Nathaniel L., and Jonathan N. Katz. 2001. “Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater: A Comment on Green, Yoon and Kim.” International Organization 55 (2): 48795.Google Scholar
Bentley Arthur. 1908/1967. The Process of Government. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Blondel Jean, and Nick Manning. 2002. “Do Members of Government Do What They Say?: Ministerial Unrelibability, Collegial and Hierarchical Governments.” Political Studies 50 (3): 45576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bollen Kenneth A. 1993. “Liberal Democracy: Validity and Method Factors in Cross-National Measures.” American Journal of Political Science 37: 120730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bos Eduard, My Vu, and Patience Stephens. 1992. “Sources of World Bank Estimates of Current Mortality Rates.” World Bank Working Paper Series 851. Washington: World Bank.
Bowler Shaun, David M. Farrell, and Richard S. Katz, eds. 1999. Party Discipline and Parliamentary Government. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
Bryce James. 1905. Constitutions. New York: Oxford University Press.
Buchanan James M., and Gordon Tullock. 1962. The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Carey John M. 2002. “Getting Their Way, or Getting in the Way?: Presidents and Party Unity in Legislative Voting.” Presented at the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association, Boston (August).
Carey John M., and Matthew Soberg Shugart. 1995. “Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote: A Rank Ordering of Electoral Formulas,Electoral Studies 14 (4): 41739.Google Scholar
Carstairs A. M. 1980. A Short History of Electoral Systems in Western Europe. London: Allen & Unwin.
Cheibub Jose Antonio. 1998. “Political Regimes and the Extractive Capacity of Governments: Taxation in Democracies and Dictatorships.” World Politics 50 (2) (April): 34976.Google Scholar
Cox Gary W. 1990. “Centripetal and Centrifugal Incentives in Electoral Systems.” American Journal of Political Science 34: 90335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dahl Robert A. 1956. Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Euromoney. 2004. “Country Risk Methodology.” Downloaded from Euromoney subscriber section, (June 11).
Finer Samuel E., ed. 1975. Adversary Politics and Electoral Reform. London: Anthony Wigram.
Gerring John, Philip Bond, and William Barndt. N.d. “Democracy and Growth: A Historical Perspective.” Manuscript, Boston University. Forthcoming.
Gerring John, and Strom C. Thacker. 2004. “Political Institutions and Corruption: The Role of Unitarism and Parliamentarism.” British Journal of Political Science (April): 295330.Google Scholar
Gerring John, and Strom C. Thacker. N.d. Good Government: A Centripetal Theory of Democratic Governance. Manuscript, Boston University. Forthcoming.
Gerring John, Strom C. Thacker and Carola Moreno. N.d., a. ““Are Parliamentary Systems Better?Manuscript, Boston University. Forthcoming.
Gerring John, Strom C. Thacker, and Carola Moreno. N.d., b. “Are Unitary Systems Better than Federal Systems?Manuscript, Boston University. Forthcoming.
Gerring John, Strom C. Thacker and Carola Moreno. N.d., c. “Do Neoliberal Policies Kill or Save Lives? A Crossnational Analysis.” Manuscript, Boston University. Forthcoming.
Gordon Scott. 1999. Controlling the State: Constitutionalism from Ancient Athens to Today. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Hart Jenifer. 1992. Proportional Representation: Critics of the British Electoral System, 1820–1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Henisz Witold J. 2000. “The Institutional Environment for Economic Growth.” Economics and Politics 12 (1): 132.Google Scholar
Herring Pendleton. 1940. The Politics of Democracy: American Parties in Action. New York: Norton.
Heston Alan, Robert Summers, and Bettina Aten. 2002. Penn World Table Version 6.1. Center for International Comparisons at the University of Pennsylvania (CICUP). (October).
Hirst Paul Q. ed. 1989. The Pluralist Theory of the State: Selected Writings of G.D.H. Cole, J.N. Figgis, and H.J. Laski. London: Routledge.
Howell Llewellyn D. 1998. The Handbook of Country and Political Risk Analysis, 2nd ed. East Syracuse, NY: PRS Group.
Huber Evelyne, Charles Ragin, and John D. Stephens. 1993. “Social Democracy, Christian Democracy, Constitutional Structure and the Welfare State.” American Journal of Sociology 99 (3) (November): 71149.Google Scholar
Humphreys Macartan. 2005. “Natural Resources, Conflict, and Conflict Resolution: Uncovering the Mechanisms.” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 49: 4, 50837.Google Scholar
Krueger Anne O. 1995. Trade Policies and Developing Nations. Washington, DC: Brookings.
La Porta Rafael, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, Andrei Shleifer, and Robert W. Vishny. 1999. “The Quality of Government.” Journal of Economics, Law and Organization 15 (1): 22279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lieberman Evan S. 2002. “Taxation Data as Indicators of State-Society Relations: Possibilities and Pitfalls in Cross-National Research.” Studies in Comparative International Development 36 (4) (Winter): 89115.Google Scholar
Lijphart Arend. 1999. Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Linz Juan. 1994. “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does it Make a Difference?” In The Failure of Presidential Democracy, eds. Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Longley Lawrence D., and Roger H. Davidson, eds. 1998. The New Roles of Parliamentary Committees. London: Frank Cass.
Lowi Theodore. 1969. The End of Liberalism. New York: Norton.
Manning Nick, Naazneen Barma, Jean Blondel, Elsa Pilichowski, and Vincent Wright. 1999. Strategic Decisionmaking in Cabinet Government: Institutional Underpinnings and Obstacles. Washington DC: World Bank.
Marshall Monty. 1999. Major Armed Conflicts and Conflict Regions, 1946–1997. Dataset from CIDCM, University of Maryland. Obtained via the State Failure Task Force dataset, (April 25, 2005).
Marshall Monty G., and Keith Jaggers. 2005. “Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800–2003.” (April 25, 2005).
McConnell Grant. 1966. Private Power and American Democracy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Mill John Stuart. 1865/1958. Considerations on Representative Government, 3d ed., ed. Curren V. Shields. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.
Moe Terry M., and Michael Caldwell. 1994. “The Institutional Foundations of Democratic Government: A Comparison of Presidential and Parliamentary Systems.” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics 150: 17195.Google Scholar
Moon Bruce E. 1991. The Political Economy of Basic Human Needs. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Newey Whitney K., and Kenneth D. West. 1987. “A Simple, Positive Semi-Definite, Heteroskedasticity and Autocorrelation Consistent Covariance Matrix.” Econometrica 55 (3): 703708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Noiret Serge, ed. 1990. Political Strategies and Electoral Reforms: Origins of Voting Systems in Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Baden-Baden: Nomos.
North Douglass C., and Barry R. Weingast. 1989. “Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England.” Journal of Economic History 49: 80332.Google Scholar
Oates Wallace E. 1972. Fiscal Federalism. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.
O'Donnell Guillermo. 1999. “Horizontal Accountability in New Democracies.” In The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies, eds. Andreas Schedler, Larry Diamond, and Marc F. Plattner. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
Persson Torsten, Gerard Roland, and Guido Tabellini. 1997. “Separation of Powers and Political Accountability.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 112: 11631202.Google Scholar
Piano Aili, and Arch Puddington. (eds.) 2004. Freedom in the World 2004: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
Ranney Austin. 1962. The Doctrine of Responsible Party Government: Its Origins and Present State. Urbana: University of Illinois.
Reiss Julian. 2003. “Practice Ahead of Theory: Instrumental Variables, Natural Experiments and Inductivism in Econometrics.” Unpublished manuscript, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, London School of Economics.
Riker William H. 1982. Liberalism against Populism: A Confrontation between the Theory of Democracy and the Theory of Social Choice. San Francisco: Freeman.
Riley James C. 2001. Rising Life Expectancy: A Global History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rodrik Dani. 1995. “Comments.” In Trade Policies and Developing Nations, ed. Anne O. Krueger. Washington, DC: Brookings, 101111.
Sartori Giovanni. 1975. “Will Democracy Kill Democracy? Decision-Making by Majorities and by Committees.” Government and Opposition 10 (Spring): 13558.Google Scholar
Sartori Giovanni. 1976. Parties and Party Systems: A Framework for Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schattschneider E. E. 1960. The Semi-Sovereign People. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
Steinmo Sven, Kathleen Thelen, and Frank Longstreth, eds. 1992. Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Stepan Alfred, and Cindy Skach. 1993. “Constitutional Frameworks and Democratic Consolidation: Parliamentarianism versus Presidentialism.” World Politics 46: 122.Google Scholar
Tiebout Charles M. 1956. “A Pure Theory of Local Government Expenditure.” Journal of Political Economy 64: 41624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Truman David B. 1951. The Governmental Process. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Vanhanen Tatu. 1990. The Process of Democratization: A Comparative Study of 147 States, 1980–88. New York: Crane Russak.
Vile M. J. C. 1967/1998. Constitutionalism and the Separation of Powers. Liberty Fund.
Wooldridge Jeffrey. 2002. Introductory Econometrics: A Modern Approach. Cincinnati, OH: South-Western College Publishers.
World Bank. 2003. World Development Indicators 2003. CD-ROM.