New Tools in Comparative Political Economy: The Database of Political Institutions
This article introduces a large new cross-country database, the Database of Political Institutions. It covers 177 countries over 21 years, 1975–95. The article presents the intuition, construction, and definitions of the different variables. Among the novel variables introduced are several measures of checks and balances, tenure and stability, identification of party affiliation with government or opposition, and fragmentation of opposition and government parties in the legislature.
Research into the institutional and political roots of government decisions has accelerated rapidly in the past 20 or more years. However, cross-country empirical work has been handicapped by a lack of detailed data on countries’ political and institutional characteristics and on how they change over time. Therefore, comparative political economy has been restricted to small-sample case studies, which are important in their own right but impose unavoidable limits on researchers seeking to generalize their results beyond the case study sample.
The lack of data has been a serious obstacle to better understanding of numerous areas of political economy, particularly the political conditions under which governments choose policies that promote rather than retard economic development. We are still far away from the answers to two fundamental questions. First, which political institutions are most conducive to development and reform? Second, under what conditions do such institutions emerge?