In political science, a political system means the type of political organization that can be recognized, observed or otherwise declared by a state.[1]

It defines the process for making official government decisions. It usually comprizes the governmental legal and economic system, social and cultural system, and other state and government specific systems. However, this is a very simplified view of a much more complex system of categories involving the questions of who should have authority and what the government influence on its people and economy should be.

The main types of political systems recognized are democracies, totalitarian regimes and, sitting between these two, authoritarian regimes with a variety of hybrid regimes.[2][3] Modern classification system also include monarchies as a standalone entity or as a hybrid system of the main three.[4][5]


According to David Easton, "A political system can be designated as the interactions through which values are authoritatively allocated for a society".[6] Political system refers broadly to the process by which laws are made and public resources allocated in a society, and to the relationships among those involved in making these decisions.[7]

Social political science

Further information: List of forms of government

World's states coloured by systems of government:
Parliamentary systems: Head of government is elected or nominated by and accountable to the legislature
  Constitutional monarchy with a ceremonial monarch
  Parliamentary republic with a ceremonial president

Presidential system: Head of government (president) is popularly elected and independent of the legislature
  Presidential republic

Hybrid systems:
  Semi-presidential republic: Executive president is independent of the legislature; head of government is appointed by the president and is accountable to the legislature
  Assembly-independent republic: Head of government (president or directory) is elected by the legislature, but is not accountable to it

  Semi-constitutional monarchy: Monarch holds significant executive or legislative power
  Absolute monarchy: Monarch has unlimited power
  One-party state: Power is constitutionally linked to a single political party
  Military junta: Committee of military leaders controls the government; constitutional provisions are suspended
  Provisional government: No constitutionally defined basis to current regime
  Dependent territories and places without governments

Note: this chart represent de jure systems of government, not the de facto degree of democracy.[citation needed]

The sociological interest in political systems is figuring out who holds power within the relationship between the government and its people and how the government’s power is used. According to Yale professor Juan José Linz there a three main types of political systems today: democracies, totalitarian regimes and, sitting between these two, authoritarian regimes (with hybrid regimes).[3][8] Another modern classification system includes monarchies as a standalone entity or as a hybrid system of the main three.[4] Scholars generally refer to a dictatorship as either a form of authoritarianism or totalitarianism.[9][10][3][11]


Further information: Types of democracy

Democracy (from Ancient Greek: δημοκρατία, romanizeddēmokratía, dēmos 'people' and kratos 'rule')[12] is a system of government in which state power is vested in the people or the general population of a state.[13] Under a minimalist definition of democracy, rulers are elected through competitive elections while more expansive definitions link democracy to guarantees of civil liberties and human rights in addition to competitive elections.[14][15]


Authoritarianism is a political system characterized by the rejection of democracy, and political plurality. It involves the use of strong central power to preserve the political status quo, and reductions in the rule of law, separation of powers, and democratic voting.[16][17] Political scientists have created many typologies describing variations of authoritarian forms of government.[17] Authoritarian regimes may be either autocratic or oligarchic and may be based upon the rule of a party or the military.[18][19] States that have a blurred boundary between democracy and authoritarianism have some times been characterized as "hybrid democracies", "hybrid regimes" or "competitive authoritarian" states.[20][21][22]


Totalitarianism is a political system and a form of government that prohibits opposition political parties, disregards and outlaws the political claims of individual and group opposition to the state, and controls the public sphere and the private sphere of society. In the field of political science, totalitarianism is the extreme form of authoritarianism, wherein all socio-political power is held by a dictator, who also controls the national politics and the peoples of the nation with continual propaganda campaigns that are broadcast by state-controlled and by friendly private mass communications media.[23]


A monarchy is a form of government in which a person, the monarch, is head of state for life or until abdication. The political legitimacy and authority of the monarch may vary from restricted and largely symbolic (constitutional monarchy), to fully autocratic (absolute monarchy), and can span across executive, legislative, and judicial domains.[24]

The succession of monarchs has mostly been hereditary, often building dynasties. However, elective and self-proclaimed monarchies have also often occurred throughout history.[25] Aristocrats, though not inherent to monarchies, often serve as the pool of persons from which the monarch is chosen, and to fill the constituting institutions (e.g. diet and court), giving many monarchies oligarchic elements.


Further information: Democratization and Democratic backsliding

A hybrid regime[a] is a type of political system often created as a result of an incomplete democratic transition from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one (or vice versa).[b] Hybrid regimes are categorized as having a combination of autocratic features with democratic ones and can simultaneously hold political repressions and regular elections.[b] Hybrid regimes are commonly found in developing countries with abundant natural resources such as petro-states.[43][33][44] Although these regimes experience civil unrest, they may be relatively stable and tenacious for decades at a time.[b] There has been a rise in hybrid regimes since the end of the Cold War.[45][46]

The term hybrid regime arises from a polymorphic view of political regimes that opposes the dichotomy of autocracy or democracy.[47] Modern scholarly analysis of hybrid regimes focuses attention on the decorative nature of democratic institutions (elections do not lead to a change of power, different media broadcast the government point of view and the opposition in parliament votes the same way as the ruling party, among others),[48] from which it is concluded that democratic backsliding, a transition to authoritarianism is the most prevalent basis of hybrid regimes.[b][49] Some scholars also contend that hybrid regimes may imitate a full dictatorship.[50][51]

Sociological and socioanthropological classification

Social anthropologists generally recognize four kinds of political systems, two of which are uncentralized and two of which are centralized.[52]

See also


  1. ^ Scholars uses a variety of terms to encompass the "greyzones" between full autocracies and full democracies:[26] such as competitive authoritarianism or semi-authoritarianism or hybrid authoritarianism or electoral authoritarianism or liberal autocracy or delegative democracy or illiberal democracy or guided democracy or semi-democracy or deficient democracy or defective democracy or hybrid democracy.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34]
  2. ^ a b c d "Some scholars argue that deficient democracies and deficient autocracies can be seen as examples of hybrid regimes, whereas others argue that hybrid regimes combine characteristics of both democratic and autocratic regimes."[28] Scholars also debate if these regimes are in transition or are inherently a stable political system.[35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42]


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Further reading

  • Douglas V. Verney (15 April 2013). The Analysis of Political Systems. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-03477-1.
  • Almond, Gabriel A., et al. Comparative Politics Today: A World View (Seventh Edition). 2000. ISBN 0-316-03497-5.
  • Ferris, Kerry, and Jill Stein. The Real World An Introduction to Sociology. 3rd ed. New York City: W W Norton & Co, 2012. Print.
  • "political system". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.