Presidential vs Parliamentary

Most Americans see our version of democracy and think this is the “right” way to run a country. We tend to impose our views on other countries that are attempting to form their own democracies, although our presidential system might not be the best option out there. Both presidential democracy and parliamentary democracy have their benefits and downfalls, as any form of government does. But, the parliamentary system seems to be a more stable form of democracy.

One of the most highly emphasized issues in the United States is the separation of powers. In the American presidential democratic system, our powers are extremely separated. Almost too separated. Although the article is from 2013, the issues it discusses are still very prominent today. Would the U.S. Be Better off with a Parliament? highlights the enormous amount of gridlock that we have within our government. The article discusses whether other democratic systems, mainly the parliamentary democracy system, run in to the same type of gridlock that America does, and the answer is no. “We tried to think about why it is that other countries have had less difficulty in negotiating agreements,” says Boston University’s Cathie Jo Martin, who was co-chairwoman of the task force. “You don’t see these kinds of stalemates happening elsewhere” (Shapiro). They conclude that this tie-up is related to the “very strong separation of powers” (Shapiro).

Without this drastic separation of power, laws can be approved and put in to action at a much faster pace. This would allow for important laws, that can benefit the country, and regulations to be enacted quicker, and enforced faster. In a parliamentary system in the U.K. for example, “the majority party in the United Kingdom can enact policies with few checks from other branches of government” (O’Neil, Fields, Share 47). Some may see this as too much centralized power, and could lead to a dictatorship type of government. But in the United Kingdom that has not happened. They rely on “historical traditions” and “restrictions imposed by the European Union to keep the British government from abusing its power” (O’Neil, Fields, Share 47). So, the U.K. parliament isn’t doing whatever they please, whenever they please. They do have restrictions and limitations they must follow.

The author asked at the very end of the interview “how all of this looks from Europe, Risse in Berlin replies, “Pretty dysfunctional, I have to say” (Shapiro).

Link to Article:


O’Neil, Patrick H., Karl Fields, and Don Share. “United Kingdom.” Cases in Comparative Politics. Fifth ed. W.W. Norton, 2015. 47. Print

Shapiro, Ari. “Would The U.S. Be Better Off With A Parliament?” NPR. NPR, 12 Oct. 2013. Web. 20 Sept. 2015. <;.


4 thoughts on “Presidential vs Parliamentary

  1. I also find it interesting that there are a lot of unwritten laws which abide by this loose constitution. I can see how it can alarm those less knowledgeable on the subject, but as the author points out it seems to give “unparalleled flexibility and responsiveness to the majority” (48). It definitely seems that the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of a lot of modern movements.

  2. I agree that the parliamentary form of government has worked for the United Kingdom with its absence of a formal constitution. The U.K.’s traditional legitimacy allows the government to function without a constitution. Because of the U.K.’s history of slow evolutionary change in government as opposed to the United States revolutionary change in government the system of government can work for the U.K., but in the U.S. a formal constitution and separation of powers are needed. Although this separation of powers can cause gridlock it is necessary for the insurance of democracy and has faired well thus far. A country’s history and current circumstances are very important in determining whether to have a presidential or parliamentary form of government, so I argue that although the parliamentary system is proven to be a factor of enduring democracy it should be up to the specific country what system it takes on.

  3. While it is interesting to argue that the separation of powers is leading to gridlock (thus necessitating perhaps a more centralized form of government), I would offer an alternative explanation. Perhaps its not the separation of powers per say, but rather the capacity of the actors within the separation of powers system to act as veto players in the budgetary and legislative process. While at the federal level, Congress and the President are effectively equally matched in their ability to restrict the other, this however varies drastically at the state-level which too employs a separation of powers system. When you look at gridlock and budget impasses in particular, the “institutional capacity” (formal and informal powers) allow institutional actors at the state-level to facilitate or derail this process (increasing or decreasing gridlock) more so than at the federal. So then, would the solution rather than a drastic change to the US system be to return it to a Legislature-centered system (as originally established but altered through the delegation of authority to the executive overtime in response to shocks like war and economic downturn)? Or would it be to afford greater authority to the executive to unilaterally act over resistance by its legislative counterpart?

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