Public Choice

, Volume 158, Issue 3–4, pp 559–576 | Cite as

Equilibrium institutions: the federal-proportional trade-off

  • Josep M. ColomerEmail author


Durable democracies display a huge variety of combinations of basic institutional formulas. A quantitative logical model shows that while there are multiple equilibrium sets of institutions, each involves some trade-off between the size of the country, the territorial structure of government and the electoral system. Specifically, the larger the country, the more important is federalism in comparison to proportional representation electoral rules for the durability of democratic institutions. The explanatory power of the model is positively tested on all current durable democratic countries. It is also illustrated with a few both fitting and deviant cases. A relevant implication is that the room for manipulation of the choice of institutions is large, but not unlimited, as the choices for a durable democracy are constrained by bounded trade-offs between the values of major institutional variables.


Country size Electoral system Equilibrium Federalism Political institutions Proportional representation William Riker 



Previous versions of this paper were presented at the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association in Washington, DC, in 2010, and of the Public Choice Society in San Antonio, TX, in 2011. I acknowledge dedicated research assistance by Joan Ricart-Huguet and insightful comments and suggestions by Roger Congleton, Jose Fernandez-Albertos, William Keech and Iain McLean.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Economic AnalysisCSICBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Georgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA

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