Political Parties, Voting Systems, and the Separation of Powers

49 Pages Posted: 4 May 2016 Last revised: 7 Nov 2017

See all articles by Stephen Gardbaum

Stephen Gardbaum

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Date Written: May 3, 2016


This article aims to show that whatever the formal arrangements on the separation or "fusion" of executive and legislative powers -- whether presidential, parliamentary or semi-presidential -- the way any constitution operates in terms of concentrating or dispersing power is significantly a function of both the political party and electoral systems in place. They can not only fuse what a constitution's executive-legislative relations provisions separate, but also separate what they fuse. As a result, the same set of institutional relations can operate quite differently in separation of powers terms depending on party and electoral system contexts.

In so doing, the article broadens and deepens the insight that the original Madisonian framework of institutional competition between the President and Congress has been rewritten by the subsequent, unanticipated development of the modern political party system, so that concentration or dispersal of political power -- unified or divided government -- depends mostly on electoral outcomes. It broadens the insight by showing this is true of all forms of government and not only the U.S. presidential system. It deepens it by drilling down one layer further and taking into account how party systems and electoral outcomes are themselves affected by the method of voting employed.

The article seeks to counter the tendency of constitutional lawyers to focus on inter-branch relations alone and to overlook other important institutional variables in thinking about separation of powers and constitutional design more generally. It also aspires, through the use of comparative and historical examples, to enhance our understanding of the U.S. system of "separation of parties, not powers."

Keywords: separation of powers, political parties, party system, voting systems, proportional representation, presidentialism, parliamentarism, semi-presidentialism

Suggested Citation

Gardbaum, Stephen, Political Parties, Voting Systems, and the Separation of Powers (May 3, 2016). 65(2) American Journal of Comparative Law 229 (2017), UCLA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 16-23, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2774419

Stephen Gardbaum (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

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