Examining and forecasting political outcomes such as interstate peace, intrastate conflict, and economic development is one of the primary goals of political science researchers and practitioners. Assessing these outcomes requires data that characterizes the institutions, regimes, and behaviors that lead to these outcomes. Therein lies one of the core debates of political science. How does one best characterize political institutions? How do you quantitatively measure levels of democracy and autocracy across the global spectrum? Datasets designed to answer these questions generally fall into 2 categories: 1) a mix of composite indices and measures of institutional behaviors and outcomes coded by teams of local experts, and 2) de jure measurements of directly observable institutional characteristics.
Datasets offered by Polity1 and Freedom House2 generally fall into the former, while direct assessments of constitutional and electoral structure like the Institutions and Elections Project3 and the Comparative Constitutions Project4 make up the latter. Other datasets like the Varieties of Democracy5 present an interesting blend of both. Neither are better than the other; they both have their merits depending on the use case. Relying on composite indices derived by long time experts can spare you weeks of exploratory analysis and derived variable construction, while using highly disaggregated metrics or de jure measures of institutional capability may better serve narrowly focused research questions.
The Comparative Constitutions Project’s Characteristics of National Constitutions (CNC) is one of the 3 primary datasets presenting structural characteristics of national constitutions. The central goal of the Comparative Constitutions Project is to provide data to legal scholars assisting in the drafting of constitutions.6 In doing so, they created a rich resource for political scientists and environment-security researchers looking to examine the causal relationships between institutional structure and political outcomes. In contrast to Freedom House and Polity V, CNP does not utilize abstract constructs of institutions and civil liberties; most of the included variables are clear and leave little room for interpretation.
Comparative Constitutions Project also provides 2 datasets that are complimentary to the CNC: Constitute7,8 and the Chronology of Constitutional Events.9,10 The Chronology of Constitutional Events (CCE) is a narrowly focused offering containing annual country-year observations of generalized “constitutional events”. There are 6 unique designations:
- New Constitution
- Interim Constitution
- Suspended Constitution
- Reinstated Constitution
- Non-Event (years without the above)
The limited scope of the CCE lends itself more to timeline visualizations or a quick reference, but could be helpful when used in conjunction with additional datasets or in other applications. CCE could also be used to derive quantitative metrics of constitutional stability similar to those included with version 2.0 of the Institutions and Elections Project.
Constitute is more of an investigative web-based platform than a self-contained dataset. The Constitute website contains a searchable database of verbatim transcriptions of more than 200 current and historical constitutions. The database may be filtered by clause using dozens of pre-defined categories spanning a wide range of topics including cultural, judicial, executive, oversight, etc. Although Constitute does not have a traditional centralized “file” to access, there are multiple ways to interface with the project. The project’s ontology is available as an OWL file directly from their website. The project metadata is also available in the N-Triples (.nt) format. Each country page provides links for HTML and PDF copies of the constitution in addition to N-Triple, Turtle, and RDF/XML versions of the constitutions excerpts and articles. Lastly, Constitute also maintains an API service so programmatic requests can be made to the database.
All together, the Comparative Constitutions Project’s CNC, CCE, and Constitute provide a fantastic and comprehensive resource for researchers and practitioners across a wide range of disciplines.
Dataset Contact Information:Zachary Elkins, Department of Political Science, University of Texas at Austin
Tom Ginsburg, Law School, University of Chicago
No discernable useage lisence listed in peer reviewed manuscript accompanying the dataset release, codebook, or hosting site.
The chronology is described in detail on the Comparative Constitutions Project’s website and in Elkins, Ginsburg, and Melton (2009); this document provides summary information for users. The authors utilize two concepts to categorize constitutional texts. A constitutional system encompasses the period in which a constitution is in force, a period bracketed by the year of adoption and that of any replacement or suspension. A constitutional event is any change to a country’s constitution, including adoption, amendment, suspension, or reinstatement. Therefore, within constitutional systems, there can be (and often are) multiple events. The United States, for example, has had two constitutional systems: 1781-89, and 1789-present. The present US constitutional system has included multiple events, including one for each year in which an amendment is promulgated.
Time Period Information:
- Beginning Date: 1798
- Ending Date: 2019
- Resolution: yearly