Joshua BrinksISciences, LLC 

Summary:

  • Incredible resource of current and historical constitutions.
  • Compliments the Characteristics of National Constitutions and Chronology of Constitutional Events datasets.
  • Being open-linked data, programmatic queries may be more challenging for those less familiar with OWL ontologies and N-Triple formats.

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 and the Chronology of Constitutional Events.8,9

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.

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:

  1. New Constitution
  2. Amendment
  3. Interim Constitution
  4. Suspended Constitution
  5. Reinstated Constitution
  6. 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.

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.

Reference

1.
Marshall, M. G. & Gurr, T. R. Polity5: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2018 (Dataset UsersManual). 85 (2020).
2.
Freedom House. Freedom in the World 2021. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world (2021).
3.
Wig, T., Hegre, H. & Regan, P. M. Updated data on institutions and elections 1960: Presenting the IAEP dataset version 2.0. Research & Politics 2, 2053168015579120 (2015).
4.
Elkins, Z., Ginsburg, T. & Melton, J. The comparative constitutions project: A cross-national historical dataset of written constitutions. (2009).
5.
Coppedge, M., Gerring, J., Lindberg, S. I., Skaaning, S.-E. & Teorell, J. V-Dem Comparisons and Contrasts with Other Measurement Projects. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2951014 (2017) doi: 10.2139/ssrn.2951014.
6.
Comparative Constitutions Project. About the CCP. https://comparativeconstitutionsproject.org/about-ccp/ (2016).
7.
Elkins, Z. et al. Constitute: The world’s constitutions to read, search, and compare. Journal of Web Semantics 27-28, 10–18 (2014).
8.
Elkins, Z., Ginsburg, T. & Melton, J. The Endurance of National Constitutions. ( Cambridge University Press, 2009).
9.
Elkins, Z., Ginsburg, T. & Melton, J. Chronology of Constitutional Events, Version 1.3. http://www.comparativeconstitutionsproject.org (2020).

Citation Information:

  • Title: Constitute: The world’s constitutions to read, search, and compare
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Data Form: tabular
  • Publisher: Comparative Constitutions Project
  • Online Host: https://constituteproject.org
  • DANTE Citekey: Elkins2014

Dataset Contact Information:

Zachary Elkins, Department of Political Science, University of Texas at Austin 
Tom Ginsburg, Law School, University of Chicago 

Use Constraints:

Except for material identified as copyrighted by other parties, the content of constituteproject.org is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 3.0 Unported License (which allows you to make free use of information from the site for noncommercial purposes).

Abstract:

New constitutions are written every year. The people who write these important documents need to read and analyze texts from other places. And citizens need to know, and to be able to understand, what’s in their countries’ foundational documents. Constitute offers access to the world’s constitutions so that users can systematically compare them across a broad set of topics—using an inviting, clean interface. Constitute includes the currently-in-force constitution for nearly every independent state in the world, as well as some draft and historical texts. We continue to update the in-force texts as they are amended or replaced, and we plan to expand the selection of draft and historical texts available on the site as well. Arabic Constitute and Spanish Constitute each include approximately 50 currently-in-force constitutions, representing every region in the world, as well as some draft and historical texts.

Additional Metadata

Time Period Information:

  • Beginning Date: 1798
  • Ending Date: 2019

Data Categories:

tabular

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