Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0003
- LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0003
Bicameralism refers to legislative systems that include two chambers. In presidential systems, both chambers are typically elected directly. In parliamentary systems, typically the first (or lower) chamber is elected directly while the second (or upper) chamber can be appointed, elected directly, or elected indirectly. Historically, bicameral legislatures were intended to represent the aristocratic interests in the second chamber and the interests of landowners in the first chamber. The dominance of aristocratic interests was ensured by granting the second chamber strong veto authority (i.e., the power to defeat bills) over all legislation. As universal suffrage spread, however, the ability of the unelected second chamber to dictate policy to popularly elected governments in the first chamber became untenable. To address this anomaly, governments responded by either (1) abolishing the second chamber, (2) granting the second chamber authority over issues relating to federalism, or (3) replacing the power to defeat legislation with the power to delay legislation (suspensory veto authority). Although most second chambers are tasked with policy refinement (i.e., improving legislation), the legislative studies literature has, until recently, concluded that once the veto authority of most second chambers was curbed, their policy influence was limited. The “conventional wisdom” that most second chambers are better suited for providing a soft landing for politicians on their way to retirement rather than as a venue for substantive policy debate and influence is being challenged, however, as governments have become increasingly reliant on the second chamber as a venue to introduce and debate legislation and as second chambers have become increasingly more willing to defeat government legislation. This debate has also found its way into political discourse as several governments debate reform, which would balance the ability of elected government majorities in the first chamber to pass their legislative agenda while protecting crucial policy refinement functions and expertise found in the second chamber. While the idea of abolishing the second chamber is sometimes raised by political parties that are underrepresented in the second chamber, in most advanced industrial democracies, modern institutional debates focus on reform rather than abolition of the second chamber.
Bicameralism is relatively understudied in the comparative legislatures literature, given the literature’s focus on chambers that are (1) elected directly and (2) possess strong veto authority. Nice overviews of bicameralism can be found in Bradbury and Crain 2004, Uhr 2008, and Heller and Branduse 2014 while a discussion of the historical foundations of modern bicameralism can be found in Tsebelis and Money 1997. Norton 2004 highlights the difficulties in determining what actually constitutes a second chamber, while Patterson and Mughan 1999 and Russell 2001 outline the functions that second chambers typically perform.
Bradbury, John Charles, and W. Mark Crain. “Bicameralism.” In Encyclopedia of Public Choice. Vol. 2. Edited by Charles Kershaw Rowley and Friedrich Schneider, 39–41. New York: Kluwer, 2004.
An overview of the justifications for bicameralism as well as a brief introduction to the literature pertaining to bicameral institutions and policy stability (see Bicameralism and Policy Stability).
Heller, William B., and Diana M. Branduse. “The Politics of Bicameralism.” In The Oxford Handbook of Legislative Studies. Edited by Shane Martin, Thomas Saalfield, and Kaare Strom, 332–351. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Reviews the literature relating to bicameralism, including the evolution of second chambers, as well as current debates relating to the policy influence of second chambers.
Norton, Phillip. “How Many Bicameral Legislatures Are There?” Journal of Legislative Studies 10.4 (2004): 1–9.
Provides a thought-provoking discussion of what actually constitutes a second chamber by investigating institutional patterns in systems typically classified as unicameral (Botswana, Iran, and the European Union).
Patterson, Samuel C., and Anthony Mughan. Senates: Bicameralism in the Contemporary World. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1999.
Notes that bicameralism is understudied in relation to other topics within the literature on comparative legislatures. Also identifies the representation and redundancy functions associated with second chambers.
Russell, Meg. “What Are Second Chambers For?” Parliamentary Affairs 54 (2001): 442–458.
Article describes the historical justifications for bicameralism while outlining the functions that second chambers typically perform.
Tsebelis, George, and Jeannette Money. Bicameralism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
A detailed literature review examining not only the social choice literature on bicameralism (see Bicameralism and Policy Stability, but also the classic theoretical discussions for the precursors of modern bicameralism. Also includes information pertaining to veto strength, size, and electoral mechanisms of second chambers.
Uhr, John. “Bicameralism.” In the Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions. Edited by R. A. W. Rhodes, Sarah Binder, and Bert A. Rockman, 474–494. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Offers a thorough discussion of the theoretical foundations and modern justifications for bicameralism. Also provides an introduction to the literature using formal modeling in the study of bicameral legislatures.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email email@example.com to express your interest.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- American Indian Politics
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Brazilian Political Development
- Business-State Relations in Europe
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Communist Party
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil Society in South Asia
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Development of Survey Research
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- East Africa, Politics of
- Economic Voting
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Ethnic Politics
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender and International Relations
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hume’s Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Immigration and International Relations
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups and Inequality in the United States
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Media Politics in South Asia
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Plato's Political Thought
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Postcolonialism and International Relations
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Public Opinion in Advanced Industrial Democracies
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion in Contemporary Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau's Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Korea, Politics of
- Spectacle, The
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- Transitional Justice
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Presidency, The
- Voter Turnout
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- Worker Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics