Research finds federalism still effective against would-be strongmen like Trump

Feb. 19, 2019 – An international project on centralisation and decentralisation in federations – the first major study of its kind – finds that centralisation is not inevitable. Even the United States, where federalism is often seen as being at risk, is less centralised than many think.

A team led by Dr Paolo Dardanelli, Reader in Comparative Politics at the University of Kent’s School of Politics and International Relations (POLIR), measured centralisation and decentralisation in 22 policy fields and five fiscal categories in Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Switzerland, and the United States from 1790 to 2010.

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Among their key findings they discovered that:

  • There has been centralisation in terms of legislation but less so as regards administration and fiscal revenues
  • Canada has bucked the trend and become more decentralised in all three dimensions (legislatively, administratively, and fiscally). Germany and India have also become more decentralised in recent decades
  • De/centralisation dynamics are driven primarily by socio-economic factors such as market integration and the demand for welfare service.
  • Different systems follow different paths to de/centralisation depending on features such as the constitutional amendment process and the role of the courts

Dr. Dardanelli said: ‘The USA today shows that the states have retained major powers and use them effectively. Some of the most spirited opposition to Trump’s policies have come from the states rather than Congress.’

The project findings are published in a special issue of Publius: The Journal of Federalism and the dataset is available from the UK Data Service.

The De/Centralisation Dataset was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and received additional support from the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Forum of Federations.