Competitive Model of Democracy

… a core term used in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Joseph Heath (reference below) describes the competitive model of democracy as one “which considers the competition for political leadership to be the central feature of democratic institutions” (p. 15).

This model can be contrasted with the Aggregative Model of Democracy and the Deliberative Model of Democracy.

Heath writes:

“Both the aggregative and the deliberative models are weak when it comes to explaining the role that leadership plays in the political process. This is in certain respects a curious omission. After all, the central function of democratic politics in this country – and the primary mandate of parliament – is to create a government. Yet both aggregative and deliberative theorists regard the appointment of leadership, not as the point of democratic procedure, but rather as an instrument used to ensure to smooth functioning of the democratic process. Leadership, in other words, has no sui generis status in the political system, according to either of these two views. It is simply there to facilitate public deliberation or the aggregation of interests.

“There is another tradition of democratic theory (tracing its roots back to the work of Joseph Schumpeter), which considers the competition for political leadership to be the central feature of democratic institutions. Both the aggregative and the deliberative views tend to focus on what the state does with its power, rather than who gets to exercise it. Democratic institutions, according to these views, are designed to ensure that the content of legislation somehow reflects the general will. The competitive model shifts the emphasis away from the content of legislation towards those who enact it. The complexity of human affairs is such that, throughout all of human history, groups have needed leaders to make decisions. Things do not change fundamentally with the transition to democracy. The core function of democratic institutions is simply to impose some constraints on who gets to run things.” (p. 15-16)

“The ideal democratic system, according to this view, is one that generates strong, capable leadership, but which does not allow such leadership to become entrenched. This is a delicate balancing act – give too little power, and the result will be ineffective government, institutional gridlock, and public frustration with the political process; give too much power, and the result will be an ossification of power structures, cronyism, and public discontent with the leadership. The goal is to create a powerful institutional structure, but then to ensure a steady circulation of qualified personnel within that structure.” (p. 16-17)

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Electoral Systems and Democratic Reform (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Joseph Heath (n.d.), The democracy deficit in Canada, at, accessed 12 August 2016 and uploaded to the Atlas at

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 15 August 2016.