Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Unwritten Rules: Informal Institutions in Established Democracies

  • Julia R. Azari (a1) and Jennifer K. Smith (a2)
Abstract

Scholars of the developing world have driven a surge of interest in unwritten or informal institutions as determinants of political outcomes. In advanced industrial democracies, by contrast, informal institutions often remain consigned to the analytic margins. This article makes a case for greater attention to informal political institutions in established democracies, and it introduces a theoretical framework to support such analysis. Informal institutions, understood as the unwritten rules of political life, are seen to perform three functions: they complete or fill gaps in formal institutions, coordinate the operation of overlapping (and perhaps clashing) institutions, and operate parallel to formal institutions in regulating political behavior. These three roles of informal institutions are associated with different characteristic patterns of institutional stability and change. The article illustrates its theoretical framework with case studies from American politics, the subfield in which formal-institutional analysis has flourished most. These cases are the historical norm of a two-term presidency (a completing institution), the unwritten rules of the presidential nomination process (coordinating institutions), the informal practice of obstruction in the Senate (a parallel institution), and the normative expectation that presidents should address the public directly (which performs all three functions).

Copyright
References
Hide All
Adkins, Randall E., and Dowdle, Andrew J.. 2000. “Break Out the Mint Juleps? Is New Hampshire the ‘Primary’ Culprit Limiting Presidential Nomination Forecasts?American Politics Research 28(2): 251–69.
Ainsworth, Scott H., and Akins, Frances. 1997. “The Informational Role of Caucuses in the U.S. Congress.” American Politics Quarterly 25(4): 407–30.
Aldrich, Daniel P. 2008. Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Aldrich, John. 1995. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Aldrich, John. 2009. “The Invisible Primary and Its Effects on Democratic Choice.” PS: Political Science and Politics 42(1): 33–8.
Axelrod, Robert. 1986. “An Evolutionary Approach to Norms.” American Political Science Review 80(4): 10951111.
Bartels, Larry. 1988. Presidential Primaries and the Dynamics of Public Choice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Baumgartner, Frank R., and Jones, Bryan D.. 1991. “Agenda Dynamics and Policy Subsystems.” Journal of Politics 53(4): 1044–74.
Bergquist, Lee, and Gilbert, Craig. 2011. “GOP May Try to Pass Tougher Recall Rules.” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (June 21): 1A.
Berke, Richard L. 1996. “Gingrich and Whitman Appeal to Forbes to Drop Out of Presidential Contest.” New York Times (March 12): A16.
Bernstein, Jonathan. 2011. “Palin and Playing By the Rules.” A Plain Blog About Politics (March 22). (http://plainblogaboutpolitics.blogspot.com/2011/03/palin-and-playing-by-rules.html), accessed October 13, 2011.
Binder, Sarah A., and Smith, Steven S.. 1997. Politics or Principle: Filibustering the United States Senate. Washington, DC: Brookings.
Böröcz, József. 2000. “Informality Rules.” East European Politics and Societies 14(2): 348–80.
Brinks, Daniel M. 2006. “The Rule of (Non)Law: Prosecuting Police Killings in Brazil and Argentina.” In Informal Institutions and Democracy: Lessons from Latin America, eds. Helmke, Gretchen and Levitsky, Steven. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Burke, John P. 2000. The Institutional Presidency: Organizing and Managing the White House from FDR to Clinton. 2nd ed.Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Canes-Wrone, Brandice. 2006. Who Leads Whom? Presidents, Policy, and the Public. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Carpenter, Daniel. 2010. Reputation and Power: Organizational Image and Pharmaceutical Regulation at the FDA. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Ceaser, James W. 1979. Presidential Selection: Theory and Development. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Cohen, Jeffrey E. 2009. “Alternative Futures: Comment on Terry Moe's ‘The Revolution in Presidential Studies.’Presidential Studies Quarterly 39(4): 725–35.
Cohen, Marty, Karol, David, Noel, Hans, and Zaller, John. 2008. The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Colignon, Richard A., and Usui, Chikako. 2003. Amakudari: The Hidden Fabric of Japan's Economy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Collier, Ruth Berins, and Collier, David. 1991. Shaping the Political Arena: Critical Junctures, the Labor Movement, and Regime Dynamics in Latin America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Cox, Gary W. 1997. Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World's Electoral Systems. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Crawford, Sue E.S., and Ostrom, Elinor. 1995. “A Grammar of Institutions.” American Political Science Review 89(3): 582600.
Cronin, Thomas. 1989. “Tenure and Reeligibility.” In Inventing the American Presidency, ed. Cronin, Thomas. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.
Darden, Keith. 2008. “The Integrity of Corrupt States: Graft as an Informal State Institution.” Politics & Society 36(1): 3559.
Della Porta, Donatella, and Vannucci, Alberto. 1999. Corrupt Exchanges: Actors, Resources, and Mechanisms of Political Corruption. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Democratic Party. 1912. “Democratic Party Platform of 1912.” The American Presidency Project, eds. Peters, Gerhard and Woolley, John T.. (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29590), accessed October 13, 2011.
Edwards, George C. 2006. On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Ellickson, Robert C. 1991. Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Farrar-Myers, Victoria. 2007. Scripted for Change: The Institutionalization of the American Presidency. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press.
Gilbert, Craig. 2011. “Recall Drives Could Make History.” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (March 7): 1A.
Glauber, Bill, Umhoefer, Dave, and Bergquist, Lee. 2011. “Conflict in the Capitol.” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (June 5): 1A.
Greif, Avner, and Laitin, David D.. 2004. “A Theory of Endogenous Institutional Change.” American Political Science Review 98(4): 633–52.
Grzymała-Busse, Anna. 2001. “Coalition Formation and Regime Change in New Democracies.” Comparative Politics 34(1): 85104.
Grzymała-Busse, Anna. 2010. “The Best Laid Plans: The Impact of Informal Rules on Formal Institutions in Transitional Regimes.” Studies in Comparative International Development 45(3): 311–33.
Haggard, Stephan, MacIntyre, Andrew, and Tiede, Lydia. 2008. “The Rule of Law and Economic Development.” Annual Review of Political Science 11: 205–34.
Hall, Peter A. 2010. “Historical Institutionalism in Rationalist and Sociological Perspective.” In Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency, and Power, eds. Mahoney, James and Thelen, Kathleen. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hall, Peter A., and Taylor, Rosemary C.R.. 1996. “Political Science and the Three New Institutionalisms.” Political Studies 44(5): 936–57.
Helmke, Gretchen, and Levitsky, Steven. 2004. “Informal Institutions and Comparative Politics: A Research Agenda.” Perspectives on Politics 2(4): 725–40.
Kernell, Samuel. 1997. Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership. 3rd ed.Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Key, V.O. Jr. 1984 [1949]. Southern Politics in State and Nation. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
King, Desmond, Lieberman, Robert C., Ritter, Gretchen, and Whitehead, Laurence, eds. 2009. Democratization in America: A Comparative-Historical Analysis. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Knight, Jack. 1992. Institutions and Social Conflict. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Koger, Gregory. 2010. Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Korzi, Michael. 2011. Presidential Term Limits in American History: Power, Principles, and Politics. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press.
Krauthammer, Charles. 2011. “Union-Owned.” Washington Post (June 17): A25.
Krehbiel, Keith. 1986. “Unanimous Consent Agreements: Going Along in the Senate.” Journal of Politics 48(3): 541–64.
Krehbiel, Keith. 1998. Pivotal Politics: A Theory of U.S. Lawmaking. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Krugman, Paul. 2011. “Wisconsin Power Play.” New York Times (February 21): A17.
Lauth, Hans-Joachim. 2000. “Informal Institutions and Democracy.” Democratization 7(4): 2150.
Lieberman, Robert C. 2002. “Ideas, Institutions, and Political Order: Explaining Political Change.” American Political Science Review 96(4): 697712.
Lipsky, Michael. 1980. Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Mahoney, James. 2000. “Path Dependence in Historical Sociology.” Theory and Society 29(4): 507–48.
Mahoney, James, and Thelen, Kathleen. 2010. “A Theory of Gradual Institutional Change.” In Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency, and Power, eds. Mahoney, James and Thelen, Kathleen. New York: Cambridge University Press.
March, James G., and Olsen, Johan P.. 1989. Rediscovering Institutions: The Organizational Basis of Politics. New York: Free Press.
Marcus, Ruth. 2011. “Where's Obama.” Washington Post (March 2): A15.
Marley, Patrick, and Walker, Don. 2011. “Court Allows Union Limits.” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (June 15): 1A.
Matthews, Donald R. 1960. U.S. Senators and Their World. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Mayhew, David R. 1974. Congress: The Electoral Connection. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Mayhew, David R. 2010. “Legislative Obstruction.” Perspectives on Politics 8(4): 1145–54.
Mershon, Carol A. 1994. “Expectations and Informal Rules in Coalition Formation.” Comparative Political Studies 27(1): 4079.
Morton, Rebecca B., and Williams, Kenneth C. 2001. Learning by Voting: Sequential Choices in Presidential Primaries and Other Elections. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Nagourney, Adam. 2008. “Endorsement Points Up Obstacles for Clinton.” New York Times (March 29): A1.
Neale, Thomas H. 2004. Presidential Terms and Tenure: Perspectives and Proposals for Change. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
Neustadt, Richard E. 1990 [1960]. Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan. New York: Free Press.
Norrander, Barbara. 1992. Super Tuesday: Regional Politics and Presidential Primaries. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.
Norrander, Barbara. 2000. “The End Game in Post-Reform Presidential Nominations.” Journal of Politics 62(4): 9991013.
North, Douglass C. 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Orren, Karen, and Skowronek, Stephen. 2004. The Search for American Political Development. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Peabody, Bruce G., and Gant, Scott E.. 1999. “The Twice and Future President: Constitutional Interstices and the Twenty-Second Amendment.” Minnesota Law Review 83(3): 565636.
Pierson, Paul. 2000. “Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics.” American Political Science Review 94(2): 251–67.
Pierson, Paul. 2007. “The Costs of Marginalization: Qualitative Methods in the Study of American Politics.” Comparative Political Studies 40(2): 145–69.
Putnam, Robert D. 1993. Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Rae, Douglas W. 1967. The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Rasmussen, Anne. 2007. “Challenging the Commission's Right of Initiative? Conditions for Institutional Change and Stability.” West European Politics 30(2): 244–64.
Redlawsk, David P., Tolbert, Caroline J., and Donovan, Todd. 2011. Why Iowa? How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nomination Process. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Rohde, David W. 1988. “Studying Congressional Norms: Concepts and Evidence.” Congress & the Presidency 15(2): 139–45.
Roller, Emma, and Marley, Patrick. 2011. “Fake Candidates Will Cost Plenty.” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (June 14): 1A.
Rosenblum, Nancy L. 2008. On the Side of the Angels: In Defense of Parties and Partisanship. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Schickler, Eric. 2001. Disjointed Pluralism: Institutional Innovation and the Development of the U.S. Congress. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Scott, W. Richard. 1992. Organizations: Rational, Natural, and Open Systems. 3rd ed.Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Sheingate, Adam. 2010. “Rethinking Rules: Creativity and Constraint in the U.S. House of Representatives.” In Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency, and Power, eds. Mahoney, James and Thelen, Kathleen. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Shepsle, Kenneth A., and Weingast, Barry R.. 1987. “The Institutional Foundations of Committee Power.” American Political Science Review 81(1): 85104.
Sidoti, Liz. 2008. “McCain Seals GOP Nomination as Romney Suspends Campaign.” Associated Press (February 7).
Sinclair, Barbara. 1986. “Senate Styles and Senate Decision Making, 1955–1980.” Journal of Politics 48(4): 877908.
Sinclair, Barbara. 2007. Unorthodox Lawmaking: New Legislative Processes in the U.S. Congress. 3rd ed.Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Skowronek, Stephen. 1997. The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to Bill Clinton. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.
Smith, Jean Edward. 2007. FDR. New York: Random House.
Stacey, Jeffrey, and Rittberger, Berthold. 2003. “Dynamics of Formal and Informal Institutional Change in the EU.” Journal of European Public Policy 10(6): 858–83.
Stathis, Steven. 1990. “The Twenty-Second Amendment: A Practical Remedy or Partisan Maneuver?Constitutional Comment 7: 6188.
Stepan, Alfred, and Linz, Juan J.. 2011. “Comparative Perspectives on Inequality and the Quality of Democracy in the United States.” Perspectives on Politics 9(4): 841–56.
Stokes, Susan C. 2005. “Perverse Accountability: A Formal Model of Machine Politics With Evidence from Argentina.” American Political Science Review 99(3): 315–25.
Thelen, Kathleen. 2004. How Institutions Evolve: The Political Economy of Skills in Germany, Britain, the United States, and Japan. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Tsai, Kellee S. 2006. “Adaptive Informal Institutions and Endogenous Institutional Change in China.” World Politics 59(1): 116–41.
Tsai, Lily L. 2007. “Solidary Groups, Informal Accountability, and Local Public Goods Provision in Rural China.” American Political Science Review 101(2): 355–72.
Tulis, Jeffrey K. 1987. The Rhetorical Presidency. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
U.S. Senate. 2011. Senate Action on Cloture Motions. (http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/cloture_motions/clotureCounts.htm), accessed July 20, 2011.
Victor, Jennifer Nicoll, and Ringe, Nils. 2009. “The Social Utility of Informal Institutions: Caucuses as Networks in the 110th U.S. House of Representatives.” American Politics Research 37(5): 742–66.
Wawro, Gregory J., and Schickler, Eric. 2006. Filibuster: Obstruction and Lawmaking in the U.S. Senate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Zegart, Amy B. 2007. Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 15
Total number of PDF views: 393 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 3204 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 16th August 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.