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Constitutional Amendment Significance: A Survey

George Tsebelis, Anatol Rapoport Collegiate Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan

“…Amending clause…describes and regulates…amending power. This is the most important part of the constitution.

(John W. Burgess, Political Science and Constitutional Law 1890: 137).

If amendment rules are the most important part of the constitution, the frequency of constitutional amendments should be inversely related to the stringency of these rules (constitutional rigidity). However, empirical research so far finds a low, negative correlation between constitutional rigidity and the frequency of amendments. The empirical dataset that most current research is using is the “Constitute” dataset, associated with Ginsburgh, Melton and Elkin.

I believe this weak relationship between constitutional rigidity and amendment frequency stems from two primary factors:

1. The first is that prior research on the topic has included both democratic countries and authoritarian countries in the universe of cases studied. However, if a dictator decides to modify the constitution one can not make any inference about the role of constitutional constraints. Therefore, investigations of the relationship between constitutional rigidity and amendment frequency ought to be limited to democratic countries. It is straightforward to restrict the dataset to democratic countries, and I have done so. The Polity dataset scores different countries every year from 1 to 10, and those scoring above 6 are normally considered “democratic”. From the Constitute dataset, I consider amendments in countries that were democratic in 2013, the last date covered by the Constitute dataset, and ONLY for those periods in which they score above 6. This leads to the selection of 92 countries across various time periods, out of which 77 have actually amended their constitutions.

2. The second is the varying significance of amendments. This information does not exist, and my goal is to create it. I thank Richard Albert for suggesting this route of inquiry. I propose three different categories of amendment significance and I would like your help in applying this framework to all of the democratic countries for which we have amendment data. If you’re interested in providing your expert opinion on some of the countries included in my survey, please follow this link:

You will be prompted to provide your name, email and institutional affiliation (in case I need to ask you clarifying questions). Then, please read the instructions, and help me classify the amendments in the countries you know according to their significance. For your convenience, the description of each amendment significance category is repeated on each page of the survey. If you wish to provide ratings for multiple countries, simply complete the survey and then follow the link again to complete the survey a second time. After you have completed the survey you will receive an email from my research assistant confirming your participation.

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Published on October 27, 2017
Author:          Filed under: Developments

2 Responses

  1. I am a Japanese politics and foreign policy expert. There have been no constitutional revisions or amendments passed in Japan since the ratification of the 1947 Constitution.

    PM Abe is attempting to secure at least one amendment (concerning legitimizing the Japan Self-Defense Forces (essentially armed forces) in Article 9–Japan’s “peace amendment” whose wording literally outlaws Japan have such forces) currently but not clear it will pass the National Diet.

    Also amendments require a 50% majority in the Diet and a 2/3 majority in a public referendum among registered voters. Even if Abe’s desired amendment passes the Diet it is not cllear that 2/3 of the public would vote for it.

  2. C H Church

    This does not apply to Switzerland. Thanks to direct democracy there have been at least 45 changes to the basic constitutional text since 1999 (including abrogations), plus at least 12 to the Transitional Articles. Some are important, others less so and I have not the time to try and code them all. And the Federal Tribunal cannot alter the constitution in the way your categories suggest. Sorry

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