Constraints on the executive score

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What you should know about this indicator

Indicator name: xconst

Executive Constraints (Decision Rules): According to Eckstein and Gurr, decision rules are defined in the following manner: "Superordinate structures in action make decisions concerning the direction of social units. Making such decisions requires that supers and subs be able to recognize when decision-processes have been concluded, especially "properly" concluded. An indispensable ingredient of the processes, therefore, is the existence of Decision Rules that provide basic criteria under which decisions are considered to have been taken." (Eckstein and Gurr 1975, 121).

Operationally, this variable refers to the extent of institutionalized constraints on the decisionmaking powers of chief executives, whether individuals or collectivities. Such limitations may be imposed by any "accountability groups." In Western democracies these are usually legislatures. Other kinds of accountability groups are the ruling party in a one-party state; councils of nobles or powerful advisors in monarchies; the military in coup-prone polities; and in many states a strong, independent judiciary. The concern is therefore with the checks and balances between the various parts of the decision-making process. A seven-category scale is used.

(1) Unlimited Authority: There are no regular limitations on the executive's actions (as distinct from irregular limitations such as the threat or actuality of coups and assassinations). Examples of evidence:

i. Constitutional restrictions on executive action are ignored. ii. Constitution is frequently revised or suspended at the executive's initiative. iii. There is no legislative assembly, or there is one but it is called and dismissed at the executive's pleasure. iv. The executive appoints a majority of members of any accountability group and can remove them at will. v. The legislature cannot initiate legislation or veto or suspend acts of the executive. vi. Rule by decree is repeatedly used.

Note 3.4: If the executive is given limited or unlimited power by a legislature to cope with an emergency and relents this power after the emergency has passed, this is not a change to unlimited authority.

(2) Intermediate Category

(3) Slight to Moderate Limitation on Executive Authority: There are some real but limited restraints on the executive. Evidence:

i. The legislature initiates some categories of legislation. ii. The legislature blocks implementation of executive acts and decrees. iii. Attempts by the executive to change some constitutional restrictions, such as prohibitions on succeeding himself, or extending his term, fail and are not adopted. iv. The ruling party initiates some legislation or takes some administrative action independently of the executive. v. The legislature or party approves some categories of appointments nominated by the executive. vi. There is an independent judiciary vii. Situations in which there exists a civilian executive, but in which policy decisions, for all practical purposes, reflect the demands of the military.

(4) Intermediate Category

(5) Substantial Limitations on Executive Authority: The executive has more effective authority than any accountability group but is subject to substantial constraints by them. Examples:

i. A legislature or party council often modifies or defeats executive proposals for action. ii. A council or legislature sometimes refuses funds to the executive. iii. The accountability group makes important appointments to administrative posts. iv. The legislature refuses the executive permission to leave the country.

(6) Intermediate Category

(7) Executive Parity or Subordination: Accountability groups have effective authority equal to or greater than the executive in most areas of activity. Examples of evidence:

i. A legislature, ruling party, or council of nobles initiates much or most important legislation. ii. The executive (president, premier, king, cabinet, council) is chosen by the accountability group and is dependent on its continued support to remain in office (as in most parliamentary systems). iii. In multi-party democracies, there is chronic "cabinet instability."

Constraints on the executive score
Indicates the extent to which the executive is constrained. It ranges from unconstrained executives (score of 1), over slight or moderate constraints (score of 3), and substantial constraints (score of 5), to an executive that is subordinated to or on par with other authorities (score of 7). The remaining categories are intermediate ones.
Polity 5 (2020) – processed by Our World in Data
Last updated
May 13, 2024
Next expected update
May 2025
Date range

Sources and processing

This data is based on the following sources

The Polity5 project continues the Polity research tradition of coding the authority characteristics of states in the world system for purposes of comparative, quantitative analysis. The original Polity conceptual scheme was formulated and the initial Polity I data collected under the direction of Ted Robert Gurr and informed by foundational, collaborative work with Harry Eckstein, Patterns of Authority: A Structural Basis for Political Inquiry (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1975). The Polity project has proven its value to researchers over the years, becoming the most widely used resource for monitoring regime change and studying the effects of regime authority. The Polity project evolved through three earlier research phases, all under the direction of Ted Gurr. The Polity III phase updated core Polity data through 1992 and was later updated through 1998 and released as the Polity98 version. Through its evolution, the format of the Polity data has been transformed from its original focus on “persistence and change” in the “polity” as the unit of analysis (i.e., politycase format) to its present country-year case format. The original Polity I format was revisited by a research team under the direction of Nils Petter Gleditsch and information concerning the dates of coded polity changes was updated in 1994 and made available in the original polity-case format as Polity IIId. In the late 1990s, Polity became a core data project in the State Failure Task Force global forecasting project. The special focus on “state failure” problem events within a general context of societal and systemic development processes requires information pertinent to both Polity foci, state continuity and change (country-year format) and regime persistence and change (polity-case format), be combined in a single data resource base. The Polity IV combined format version was instituted with the 2000 data update.

Retrieved on
May 13, 2024
This is the citation of the original data obtained from the source, prior to any processing or adaptation by Our World in Data. To cite data downloaded from this page, please use the suggested citation given in Reuse This Work below.
Marshall, Monty G. and Ted Robert Gurr. 2020. Polity 5: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2018. Center for Systemic Peace.

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Values -66, -77 and -88 are recoded as missing (NAs), as per the rules on page 17 of the Polity 5 codebook.

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“Data Page: Constraints on the executive score”, part of the following publication: Bastian Herre, Lucas Rodés-Guirao, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser (2013) - “Democracy”. Data adapted from Polity 5. Retrieved from [online resource]
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Polity 5 (2020) – processed by Our World in Data

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Polity 5 (2020) – processed by Our World in Data. “Constraints on the executive score” [dataset]. Polity 5, “Polity5 Project, Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2018 5” [original data]. Retrieved June 19, 2024 from