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Constitutional Origins and Liberal Democracy: A Global Analysis, 1900–2015

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 January 2021

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Harvard University
Gabriel L. Negretto, Associate Professor, Instituto de Ciencia Política, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile,
Mariano Sánchez-Talanquer, Academy Scholar, Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University,


A strong tradition in democratic theory claims that only constitutions made with direct popular involvement can establish or deepen democracy. Against this view, we argue that new constitutions are likely to enhance liberal democracy when they emerge through a plural agreement among political elites with distinct bases of social support. Power dispersion during constitution writing induces the adoption of institutions that protect opposition forces from the arbitrary use of executive power without unduly impairing majority rule. However, since incumbents may renege on the bargain, the democratizing effect of politically plural constitutional agreements is likely to be larger in the short term, when the identity of negotiating political forces and the balance of power between them tend to remain stable. We find support for these arguments using an original global dataset on the origins of constitutions between 1900 and 2015 and a difference-in-differences design.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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The authors’ names are in alphabetical order. We wish to thank Ernesto Calvo, Robert Fishman, Diego Gil, Jonathan Hartlyn, Bernardo Lara, Juan Pablo Luna, Julio Ríos-Figueroa, Ignacio Sánchez-Cuenca, Francisco Urbina, Francisco Urdinez, Georg Vanberg, Sophie Weerts, Oya Yegen, and three anonymous reviewers. We are also grateful to seminar participants at the Carlos III Juan March Institute, the Political Science Department at Sabanci University, the Institute of Political Science at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and the Division of Political Studies at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE). The Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Científico y Tecnológico (Chile) funded part of the research for this article through the grant FONDECYT Regular No. 1200060. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:


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