In an episode of The West Wing, Toby remarks (IIRC) that "only four US-style presidential democracies have lasted longer than thirty years" -- he was arguing that a parliamentary democracy is an inherently better (or at least more stable) system because the US President has too much influence, constitutionally.

The details of this argument escape me. How is the US style of presidency distinct, which are the four long-term successes he's citing, and which are the ones that failed within thirty years?

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    There are people who strongly feel that US executive branch essentially usurped powers allocated by original design to legislative branch. "Intelligence Squared" held a debate on the topic within the last year, IIRC. So it could be not so much "too much influence constitutionally" and more "acquire too much influence contra constitutionally"
    – user4012
    Aug 8, 2016 at 14:33
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    I would say Puerto Rico, although not fully independent, is a pretty successful presidential-type democracy. There has never been a military coup nor impeachments in Puerto Rico since the introduction of Puerto Rican Constitution of 1952. Compared to other Latin American entities, it has been successful. Sep 1, 2016 at 20:06
  • Rome from 300 BC till 50 BC Sep 2, 2016 at 5:45
  • @DylanCzenski given Puerto Rico's relationship with America it is doubtful anyone would expect the perpetrators of a successful military coup to last very long before America removed them from power, and thus no one would bother trying a coup there.
    – Readin
    Jan 2, 2018 at 2:03

3 Answers 3


I would define "US-style" presidential governments as a "Unitary presidential constitutional republic". Or in other words, having a popularly-elected executive who is both the head of state and the head of government, serving a full fixed term without being deposed, with lawful, peaceful transitions of power following multi-party elections. As such, I would say there are only four besides the US that have lasted longer than thirty years without civil war, military coup, public revolution, or a removal of the president by other means. There are too many failures and infant republics to list them all. There may also have been others in the past such as the US 1867-1973, but Toby states "have lasted" rather than simply "lasted". The (perhaps only barely) stable presidential governments beginning before 1987 are:

  • Costa Rica (1953)
  • Dominican Republic (1978)
  • Guyana (1970)
  • Honduras (1982)

Some close runners-up might be:

  • Mexico (1988 - the previous election was acknowledged to have been fraudulent)
  • Brazil (1989)
  • Chile (1990)
  • Colombia (1991, and barely justifiable as "lasting")
  • South Korea (February 1988 - almost there!)
  • Uruguay (1990)
  • Argentina (1989 or 1994 depending on your opinion)

Incidentally, by the strict definition of success of the presidential system, the forced resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974 suggests that presidentialism in the US has only been stable for 45 years.

The advantage of a parliamentary system is that it provides for a peaceful, routine and democratic means of removing a sitting president before the expiration of their term, when such a step becomes necessary. Historians may yet write of the US that the lack of such a mechanism had been the cause of the failure of its democracy. For further reading I refer you to the excellent paper by JJ Linz: https://scholar.harvard.edu/levitsky/files/1.1linz.pdf

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    I would argue that the French system is sufficiently close enough and is old enough to qualify with the key factor distinguish a U.S. style Presidential system from another system, being that the President has more power than a symbolic monarch, rather than that the executive is "unitary". Russia is a marginal case with again a powerful Presidency but weak democratic credentials. I'd also argue that the case for deeming there to be breaks in Mexico and the Nixon case are weak.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 31, 2017 at 21:43
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    Nixon's resignation was within the the bounds of the American system and removal from office would also have been within the bounds of the American system. I think then that you shouldn't use a definition of "US-style" that doesn't count Nixon's resignation as a success. The US-style system provides a mechanism to remove dangerous presidents and it worked.
    – Readin
    Jan 2, 2018 at 2:08
  • Nixon's resignation didn't cause any major stability issues for the US government. Jan 16, 2019 at 19:19
  • I thought the US was a federal presidential constitutional republic, so hence US-style systems would like also be federal presidential constitutional republics, not unitary ones.
    – Josh Pinto
    Mar 6, 2019 at 12:28

Wikipedia lists 43 countries with a presidential system of government where the President is the Head of State and Government.

In addition, there are 15 countries with a President that is a Head of State and Head of Government, but also has a position of Prime Minister that typically holds an advisory role to the President.

2 Countries have a Presidential system where the President is head of State only and the Prime Minister is head of Government, but is answerable to the President, not Parliament.

A large number of subnational level governments are Presidential including all 50 US states and its territories, and many if not most of Japan's 47 prefectures, despite the national government being a Constitutional Monarchy.

Wikipedia lists a Presidential system as having four catagories:

  • Veto of Legislation
  • Fixed term of office, usually with a lack of "No Confidence Voting".
  • Appointment of Cabinet and Judiciary, with the ability to dismiss the former but not the latter.
  • The ability to Pardon or Commute criminal sentences.

It should be pointed out that Iran is one of the 43 Nations with a full presidential style government but it wouldn't be fair to say it's of US style.

The article lists several pros and cons of a Presidential system, among which, the most important is the Stability of the government, since a President cannot be dismissed as easily as a Prime Minister. Having said that, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers of the United States, the Legislature, not the Executive, was to be the most powerful branch of the U.S. Government.

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    A strong Presidency can be valuable when there is no stable majority coalition in the legislative branch. For example, Italy might have been better off with a strong Presidency rather than scores of post-WWII parliamentary coalitions which constantly collapsed and reformed into something slightly different.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 3, 2018 at 5:55

I never watched the West Wing, nor can I say whether "only four US-style presidential democracies have lasted longer than thirty years" is an accurate statement (it probably isn't). That being said, the primary difference between the American system and a parliamentary system is that the head of government and head of state are the same person.

In parliamentary systems, the two have different powers. Typically, the head of government is responsible for administering the various government agencies and carrying out the laws that parliament passes (possibly voting themselves or vetoing bills). The head of state usually does not have the power to direct government agencies or participate in the lawmaking, but they do appoint officers and might have powers to dismiss or appoint members of one of the parliamentary chambers, or even firing the head of government. They also are usually the ones that carry out diplomacy with other nations The exact division of powers varies from country to country.

In the American system, the President is both head of state and head of government. He is responsible for carrying out the laws passed by Congress, directing the government agencies, conducting diplomacy, and participating in the legislative process all at once. Unlike parliamentary systems, however, he has no power over Congress at all (except to veto bills). He cannot dismiss members of Congress nor appoint any of them. Additionally, although he is responsible for appointing public officers, he cannot do so without the "advice and consent of the Senate". Also unlike parliamentary systems, Congress has no power over the nomination or election of the President either. They are totally separate from one another.

I wouldn't call one system "better" than the other. They're just different is all.

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    This doesn't answer the question. Also, the comment that in parliamentary systems, the head of state is "usually the ones that carry out diplomacy" is typically only true of semi-presidential states like France. In parliamentary states, the head of state (whether a president or monarch) is not directly involved in diplomacy. Mar 29, 2017 at 9:27
  • Specific counter examples to "the head of state usually carries out diplomacy": It is not true of Ireland or Germany (which have a President as HoS), and it is not true of constitutional monarchies like the UK, Spain, or many others either. Nov 26, 2018 at 11:14

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