Week 4 Discussion: Differences and Similarities between Presidential and Parliamentary Systems
Read/review the following resources for this activity:
- Textbook: Chapter 7, 8
- Minimum of 1 scholarly source (in addition to the textbook)
Initial Post Instructions
Discuss the differences and similarities between the presidential and parliamentary systems, including the executive and legislative branches. Which system do you feel serves its citizen better? Why? Use evidence (cite sources) to support your response from assigned readings or online lessons, and at least one outside scholarly source.
Follow-Up Post Instructions
Respond to at least two peers or one peer and the instructor. Further the dialogue by providing more information and clarification. Minimum of 1 scholarly source which can include your textbook or assigned readings or may be from your additional scholarly research.
- Minimum of 3 posts (1 initial & 2 follow-up)
- Minimum of 2 sources cited (assigned readings/online lessons and an outside scholarly source)
- APA format for in-text citations and list of references
Both the presidential and parliamentary are popular types of democratic governments (The Borgen Project, 2019). Dissimilarities between the parliamentary system and the presidential system include: the parliamentary system makes up the legislative branch of government. The head of government is the Prime Minister who has no time limit on how long they can stay in office and is elected by parliament members and can only be removed by the parliament. Citizens vote for members of the parliament (The Borgen Project, 2019). Whereas the presidential system has an executive branch that only includes the president and is elected by citizens for a max of 2 terms, The presidential system is autonomous of the legislative branch, and the president can be impeached at any time (The Borgen Project, 2019).
In the Parliamentary system, the legislative branch is either unicameral or bicameral. Many governments prefer a two-house legislative branch to avoid total power in one body and ensure the federal government can be held accountable for its actions (Whitman Cobb, W. N., 2020). The Prime Minister writes laws together with the legislature. In presidential systems, the legislative branch writes laws for a president to approve. Though the president may suggest laws, it is ultimately the legislative branch that will write them (Whitman Cobb, W. N., 2020).
Is one system better than the other? Both government systems have strengths in different areas. Despite all the differences between the parliamentary system and the presidential system, it is ultimately the citizens who hold the power through the voting process (The Borgen Project, 2019).
The Borgen Project. 2019. The Parliamentary System Versus the Presidential System. (Links to an external site.)Retrieved from https://borgenproject.org/parliamentary-system-versus-presidential-system/
Whitman Cobb, W. N. (2020). Political science today (1st ed.). Washington, DC: Sage, CQ Press.
Hello Class and Professor
Discuss the differences and similarities between the presidential and parliamentary systems, including the executive and legislative branches.
The executive branch of the presidential system consists of one person, the President. The executive branch of the parliamentary system consists of two people. The Prime Minister and the head of state. According to Gaddipati (2019), in the presidential system, the president or head of state, is elected by the citizens. They serve for a maximum of two term limits. In the parliamentary system, there is a distinction between head of government and head of state. The head of government is the Prime Minister. The head of Parliament is the head of state. The Prime Minister is elected by members of Parliament. Citizens elect members of Parliament. The Prime Minister has no term limit. Both systems are democracies.
Chamberlain University College of Nursing (2021) stated that the legislative branch can be either unicameral or bicameral. Unicameral contains one legislative house. Bicameral contains two legislative houses. The U.S presidential system has the upper house, the Senate and the lower house, the House of Representatives. Members of the Senate and House of Representatives are elected by the citizens and are elected every six years for the Senate and every two years for the house. The British Parliament system has the upper house, the House of Lords, and the lower house, the House of Commons. The House of Lords serve a 15-year term. The House of Commons are elected every five years (Elgie, 2016).
Which system do you feel serves its citizens better? Why?
I believe the presidential system serves its citizens better than the parliamentary system. While both systems are democracies and both systems have individual strengths, I prefer the citizens voting for each member of congress. I also like the fact that in the presidential system, the president is independent of the legislature. I also like the fact that the president is elected every four years and can only serve consecutively for eight years. An additional aspect I like is that the president is held to the Constitution and members of Congress can keep a check on the power of the president.
Legislative bodies have existed since the days of Greece and Rome. No political democracy today functions without a representative assembly. This assembly is a body of lawmakers elected by citizens to represent their interests in government for a specified term of office. What distinguishes one legislative system from another is its composition; the amount of power it exercises; and, the amount of power it allows the executive or head of government to possess.
Representative government concentrates tremendous power in the legislative branches. Legislatures can either be unicameral (one house) or bicameral (two houses). Bicameral systems feature an upper and lower house. Depending on the traditions of a given democracy, these houses either share or hoard power. Additionally, most democracies feature either a parliamentary or presidential system. In a presidential system, the government leader is separate from the legislature denoting a separation of power. Conversely, in a parliamentary system, the executive and the legislature display a fused system of power.
Since the Cold War, the United States, along with ally Great Britain, has been a champion for democracy around the world. Most modern democracies have modeled their systems of government similar to the US or Great Britain; therefore, we will focus our discussion on these two nations this week. Both the United States and Great Britain believe in representing the people’s wishes to create stability in each country. In representing the people, the bicameral legislative branches of both countries exercise the most power and their executives serve as head of government. The way each nation governs their people is different, but the systems do have some similarities. For example, both nations elect their lower houses. Let us take a closer look at these two systems.
US and Great Britain Governing Systems
DIVISION OF POWER*
*Refer to Lesson 2
The Upper House
In bicameral systems, most of the work is customarily done in the lower house. However, the upper house in the presidential model of the US, the Senate, wields significant power and has a workload unlike many other consultative bodies. The US Senate weighs in on legislation coming from the lower house, the House of Representatives. The Senate may also draft its own legislation. No legislation goes anywhere unless the Senate approves it. Furthermore, the Senate has some unique responsibilities. It ratifies treaties that the executive branch, in this case the president, negotiates with leaders of other nations. It approves appointments to executive departments whose heads form the cabinet. It votes on the President’s appointments to the judicial branch including the Supreme Court. Additionally, when the President is accused of offenses that could result in dismissal from office, the Senate acts as a jury, hearing the case and rendering a verdict.
In the British Parliament, the upper house, known as the House of Lords, lacks substantial legislative powers compared to the lower body, the House of Commons. The House of Lords is not even an elected body. When comparing the House of Lords with the upper house in the U.S. system, the Senate, you will find there are far more members in the Senate engaged in the process of representative government.
This is not to say that Senators’ counterparts in the House of Lords are not important to the legislative process. The well-educated and legal-minded members of House of Lords can make very useful revisions on items sent to them from the House of Commons. Additionally, like most upper bodies in a bicameral system, its membership is smaller than in the lower chamber which allows it to conduct business more efficiently.
Upper bodies of the legislatures provide an extra measure of representation. For example, members of the House of Lords are chosen through a process that includes thorough Appointment Committee vetting of nominations, approval by the prime minister, and approval by the monarch. On the other hand, the U.S. Senate, provides equal geographic representation of the states. Each of the fifty states, regardless of size, elects two persons to that body.
The Lower House
Regardless of the system, the presidential or parliamentary model, the lower house is where the real power resides in most legislative systems. In the United States, for example, most laws involving taxes have traditionally originated in the House of Representatives. Lower house representatives stand for election more often than their counterparts in the upper house. This shorter election cycle makes these representatives more in tune with their constituents. In many cases, whatever is on the minds of the electorate will find a voice in the lower house. The lower house is where political power is seen in its most basic form.
The lower house of the parliament in Great Britain is called the House of Commons. It selects the prime minister or head of government from its own body as well as the cabinet. The House of Commons maintains significant control over the executive and may even dismiss him or her via a vote of no confidence. In the parliamentary model, it is not uncommon for the largest party or the party in power to control not only the lower house, but also the executive branch. Once parliamentary elections are held, its members will select the next executive and department heads from within its own ranks. This process can be good news to voters weary of political gridlock. Political gridlock occurs when nothing gets done and the various parties blame each other for the inaction. With the executive and the legislature all hailing from the same party, it would seem anything the executive wants to do will find favor in the lower house. However, the system presents a problem for the executive, who must make sure not to anger supporters in the lower house, because parliament can remove the executive through a vote of no confidence. Consequently, the executive and legislative members in a parliamentary system tend to work closely together to ensure they agree.
US Presidential System
Great Britain Parliamentary System
Election of Lower House
Selection of Upper House
Selection of Head of Government
Selection of Head of State
The Executive Branch
Executives in the presidential model are elected separate from the legislature. The President is bound by statute to observe specific election dates and is restrained by the Constitution from doing anything that might exceed specified powers. Presidential powers are held in check by the other two branches of government, the legislature and the judiciary.
If anyone were to suggest that a job description for the U.S. president might include prior national legislative experience, you would not find many qualified applicants in the ranks of recent presidents. In fact, before President Obama, only one American president in recent U.S. history spent any time in the U.S. Congress – George H. W. Bush (president 1989-1993). On the other hand, it would be impossible for someone in the United Kingdom to rise to the post of prime minister without legislative experience. In fact, in the British parliamentary model, the executive is selected from within the legislative branch, along with the cabinet that will help him or her guide the government.
Prime ministers can still serve as part of the legislative branch and represent a local constituency, something presidents cannot do. Prime ministers can also call for early national elections to be held to try to strengthen their parties’ positions. The U.S. President cannot. Former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, called for such an election in 2017, hoping to strengthen her party’s position. She nearly lost the party their position instead.
The executive in the presidential model is elected. In the U.S.; this election takes place indirectly in the Electoral College, not the legislature, or by direct citizen vote. The Electoral College is a mechanism used to elect the US President every four years. The electors are chosen according to rules set by each state individually and codified by their own state law. When we vote for a candidate as a citizen, we are actually voting for an elector to vote for the president. These electors vote for the President based on laws of their state which can vary between states. Every state has a number of electoral votes equal to its number of congressional representatives, plus three for the District of Columbia. A candidate must receive the majority of votes in the Electoral College to win the election.
Executive Roles in the US Presidential System v. Great Britain Parliamentary System
HEAD OF GOVERNMENT
HEAD OF STATE
Additionally, the US President can veto legislation and can go to voters directly to seek their support for issues. For example, the President uses the State of the Union address to highlight the Administration’s agenda for the coming year and push for support of its causes amongst the public. The President uses platforms such as speeches and press conferences to push the agenda on a regular basis. Gaining the support of the public makes it difficult for a legislature to refuse a presidential request. On the other hand, the British Prime Minister is a working member of the Parliament. However, the Prime Minister is also the leader of the government and sets its agenda within parliament unlike the US President who works in a different branch.
As for dismissal of a president, in the United States, this process is very difficult and resembles a trial in the legislature. A president can only be removed for serious illegal actions. The executive is afforded every opportunity to defend their actions as legal in this process and remains in office unless found guilty. The process of bringing charges against a public official is known as impeachment and it is the job of the US House of Representatives. Former President Bill Clinton was impeached by the US House of Representatives, but not found guilty by the US Senate. The British Prime Minister can be removed from office with a vote of no confidence in parliament. A vote is simply called for by a member of parliament putting forth a motion of no confidence in government and holding a vote upon it.
Influences on Representative Government in the US
The United States Constitution guarantees the right of the people to petition the government for redress of any grievances. In other words, citizens have the right to protest or ask for help from their government without fear of government retribution. For example, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 required employers to provide birth control as part of their health care insurance; some religious employers petitioned the government for exclusion from this piece of the Act which they felt interfered with their First Amendment religious rights. This guarantee of the right to petition the government is a fundamental right in the US representative-constitutional democracy. An essential part of this process is voting for our representatives who will enact public policy to deal with our grievances. Although the voter is at the center of this process, getting public policies passed to deal with complicated issues in the complex system can be difficult in a diverse nation. There are a variety of actors that play a role in developing public policy that are not discussed in the Constitution such as political parties and interest groups.
Political Parties and Interest Groups
Whether you follow politics or not, there is little doubt that you have heard of interest groups or political parties. They are a fixture in our everyday lives. The idea of representing the people requires that the government listen to the people. However, a country as large as ours contains many voices demanding to be heard. Some voices can easily be lost in the crowd. Interest groups and political parties form to aid people attempting to be heard over the cries of the many because as more and more people come together, their demands become stronger and louder. As the old adage states “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” So, let’s take a moment to understand these key components of the political process!
Interest groups and political parties have some similarities. They both attempt to sway public policy. Where they differ from one another is to whom they answer when all is said and done. An interest group responds only to itself and its members. It lobbies politicians and may even run ads to support particular candidates, but in the end, it is outside of government. An interest group is not responsible to the public. It represents only the specific goals of its particular interests.
In contrast, a political party is comprised of representatives who ultimately answer to the public. Their goal is to win elections, not just promote their interests. In doing so, they must have a much broader platform of interests or goals. It is kind of like the difference between working for the private sector versus the public sector. Your job may have the same responsibilities, but in the private sector you represent the interests of your company and in the public sector you represent the interests of the citizens.
The Impact of Electoral Systems
As we discussed last week, there are different types of electoral systems. These systems influence party structure. Single-member districts largely support a two-party system because of the power they must obtain to be elected by a majority while proportional systems allow for a multiparty structure because more parties can be represented in the system.
In a plurality system where the winner takes all, the platforms of smaller parties must band together to become viable contenders in the race to receive the majority of votes. This banding promotes the emergence of two strong parties as a means of obtaining enough votes to win the election. However, in a system where a portion of the vote goes to the percentage of votes received, two-distinct parties are not essential to being represented. Smaller parties can retain their distinctive agendas during the election process. However, it is important to note the need for coalitions in this structure also. While the smaller parties can achieve representation in government, a majority must still be obtained in order to pass legislation. Therefore, the smaller parties form coalition agreements to support the platform of the member parties. Coalitions require the complete support of party members because the loss of one representative’s vote can mean the clear majority is lost. Although elected officials may try to support certain policies, their efforts may be thwarted by the lack of support within a coalition or even their own party. Compromises are needed to run an effective government. Each of these two systems require compromise at one stage or another.
Democracy is an old idea that continues to evolve. Even though a democracy might look different from country to country, the bottom line is the people are being represented. Regardless of whether a government operates under a parliamentary or presidential model, the legislative and executive branches are two key government components. Additionally, electoral systems play a key role in these democracies ensuring the election of government officials.
Both interest groups and political parties attempt to influence the acts of government in these representative democracies, but they do so from two different perspectives. The first is from the outside (interest groups), and the second is from the inside (political parties). The political party’s job is to win elections and the way to win is to get eligible citizens to the polls to vote. In the US’s representative government, the people vote on representatives to the executive and legislative branches while in Great Britain citizens vote for members of the House of Commons. Voting is not done in a vacuum. There are a variety of actors dedicated to getting people to the polls, swaying public opinion, and assisting with passing laws. A candidate must be voted into the office before any public policy can be implemented to address the people’s issues so political parties work diligently to get people to the polls to vote for their person. Interest groups, also, work with their members to get people to the polls to vote. If the candidate wins, then the interest group works with the candidate to pass favorable legislation for the cause.