Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2011

9 - The Political Gap


More than forty years have passed since the late Samuel P. Huntington argued that Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union belonged to the same category of political systems. According to his landmark expression, in “… all three systems the government governs …” (Hungtington 1968: 1). What he meant was that in these countries, the Cabinet, the President, or the Politburo could successfully enact policy changes. The issue of governance or governability has been a central concern for both political scientists and policy makers. Yet, scholars also generally focus their attention on the other side of the coin: The question of whether government decisions are attuned to citizens' preferences (Przeworski et al. 1999). Indeed, one of the most important challenges related to the quality of democracy is how to improve governability while simultaneously protecting government responsiveness or accountability.

Back to Huntington's observation, how can one determine if a government actually governs? In the notorious report to the Trilateral Commission on the “crisis of democracy,” Huntington links the notion of governability with the effectiveness of the political system (Crozier, Huntington, and Watanuki 1975). Effectiveness is understood as actual performance and defined as the extent to which the political system satisfies the basic functions of government as perceived by the public (Lipset 1960). Therefore, governability indicates whether “… governments can cope with what they have on their plate …” (Dahrendorf 1980: 398).