The term “democratic institutions” refers to institutions that a nation-state uses to govern itself. This includes the legislature, courts, executive, judicial, and other institutions. A democratic state is a system of governance that is responsive to the will of the majority of the population.
Studies of democracy use two main analytical frameworks. One is deductive and the other is empirical. Deductive analyses are used to describe political institutions in terms of requisites and diffusion patterns. These approaches are most common in political science. In contrast, empirical analyses are more commonly used to understand the institutional dynamics of societies. Specifically, in political science, the main focus is on how institutions emerge and diffuse over time.
In a deterministic approach, political scientists define democratic institutions in terms of the types of requisites that they entail. Keystone institutions are considered essential for a sociopolitical system’s success and sustainability. They are the defining feature of democratic forms of governance. Identifying keystone institutions across historical cases is an important step in understanding the role of these institutions in a country.
For an analytical framework to work, it must be able to identify both existing and non-existing institutions. This is often impossible in quantitative frameworks because an infinite number of combinations of institutions may exist. However, in a deductive framework, this limitation can be overcome. Using a principal component analysis, the NAES data set can be analyzed for these combinations. It is available for scholars to request.
A number of authors have written about the social origins of dictatorship and democracy. Moore B and Veblen T outlined the history of democracy and the leisure class in their publications, while Young HP wrote about individual strategy and the social structure of capitalism. Researchers also have looked into the archaeological evidence of democratic practices. Although most of the research focuses on Western democracies, democratic institutions were also found in Mesopotamia, Haudenosaunee, and other societies.
Institutions of democracy are also critical in non-Western societies. Unlike the Western societies, the democratic regimes of these societies are not aristocratic, and the branches of government have not necessarily endorsed a specific type of checks and balances. As a result, there is less research on non-democratic regime-types.
The oligarchic dimension, on the other hand, is characterized by centralized allocations and favoritism. Increasing in prevalence around 1885, the oligarchic dimension declines in the mid-1900s. Despite the oligarchic dimension’s presence in many countries, its market share is only about 20 percent. Nevertheless, the oligarchic dimension is not conducive to substitution at the nation-state level.
In contrast to the oligarchic dimension, the democracy dimension increases from the early 1900s to the 1940s. In this period, a wave-like increase occurs in nations with a democracy dimension. But by the 1960s, a rift appears.
To study the evolution of democratic institutions, the Annenberg Public Policy Center conducts annual surveys of public knowledge. Their annual Annenberg Civics Knowledge Survey (ACKS) examines challenges facing the press, public schools, and the government.