The Institutional Logics of Presidential Elections

  • Robert Elgie


The study of institutions and the role they play in determining political outcomes is not new. Institutionalism has a long intellectual history which encompasses the work of writers as famous and as diverse as Montesquieu, Bagehot, Ostrogorski and Weber. In France, the institutionalist tradition is exemplified by Maurice Duverger’s pioneering work in the early 1950s on political parties, electoral systems and party systems.1 More recently it may be associated with the ‘strategic analysis of institutions’ which was developed mainly by Jean-Luc Parodi and Olivier Duhamel.2 Despite these deep intellectual foundations, it is only in the last few years that political scientists have begun to pay systematic attention to the nature of institutions and to address the question of how and why they affect the political process.3 The essence of the new institutionalist approach is that institutions help to define the behaviour of political actors. They do so by encouraging people to adopt certain forms of action and by discouraging them from adopting certain others. They provide individuals with resources and constraints. They create incentives and disincentives. They open up certain possibilities and close off others. In short, they establish the rules of the political game. This is not to say, though, that institutions predetermine political outcomes, that they fix behaviour in advance or that they leave political actors with no alternatives. It is simply to say that by studying institutions it is possible to gain insights into the nature of political competition, the distribution of political power and the patterns of public policy-making which occur within individual political systems.


Political Party Presidential Election Electoral System Institutional Logic Electoral College 
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© Robert Elgie 1996

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  • Robert Elgie

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