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We, the People: Citizen Input Helps Constitutions, Study Suggests

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Eisenstadt LeVan and Maboudi

A study by SPA Professor Todd Eisenstadt, SIS Assistant Professor Carl LeVan, and SPA Adjunct Instructor Tofigh Maboudi suggests that democracies may be stronger when ordinary citizens are involved in the initial stages of reforming of their country’s constitution.

A groundbreaking large-scale empirical analysis of participatory constitution making, the research also breaks down constitution-making into three stages – drafting, debating, and ratification – and “offers empirical support for emerging international norms of participatory governance and for participatory models of democracy.”

Published in the American Political Science Review, their study shows that the level of democracy increased in 62 countries following the adoption of a new constitution, but decreased or stayed the same in 70 others. Using data covering all 138 new constitutions in 118 countries between 1974 and 2011, it explains this divergence through empirical tests showing “that constitutions crafted with meaningful and transparent public involvement are more likely to contribute to democratization.” This finding challenges recent scholarship suggesting that approval by voters after a national debate is the most critical step of citizen involvement in the constitution-development process.

Their paper, “When Talk Trumps Text: The Democratizing Effects of Deliberation during Constitution-Making, 1974-2011,” was supported by funding from an Andrew Mellon-Latin American Studies Association conference grant, a Collaborative Research Award from SIS, the Office of the Provost, and SPA.

LeVan earned his MA in political science from SPA, and he is the author of Dictators and Democracy in African Development: the Political Economy of Good Governance in Nigeria. He currently teaches courses on African politics, comparative political institutions, and political theory at the undergraduate, MA, and PhD levels.

Eisenstadt's research focuses on the intersection of formal institutions and laws with informal institutions and practices, mostly in democratizing countries in Latin America. His studies have been funded by the Fulbright Commission, the National Security Education Program (NSEP), the Ford and Mellon foundations, USAID, and the NSF.

Maboudi is a PhD candidate in political science at SPA. His dissertation, “We the Constituents: Constitutions and Channeling of Democratic Participation in the Middle East and North Africa,” examines the impact of public participation in constitutional processes on stabilizing, legitimizing, and democratizing constitutions.