Federalism and Democracy: Meeting the Challenges of Political Polarization?

The second half of the 20th century saw an expansion of democracy and federalism around the world as demands for freedom, human rights and participation in politics increased dramatically. However, democratization has also revealed deep divides in societies, and rising conflicts are threatening democracy. In this context, federalism has been expected to stabilize government in divided societies and to accommodate claims of national minorities. Democratization has fostered federalization as it has allowed citizens in formerly dominated communities to gain greater autonomy. In turn, federalism has supported democracy by constraining the concentration of government power. Thus, federalism and democracy promise to advance and stabilize each other, and federal democracy seems an ideal political system in a liberal and pluralist society.

However, many developments and conditions can cause a crisis or failure of democracy and federalism. Indeed, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index (2020), only 24% of the 25 federal countries in the index are full democracies. Further, a 2018 survey of citizens in 27 countries by the Pew Research Center found a median of 51% not satisfied with the way democracy works in their country.

In this Forum of Federations webinar, experts from the Global North and the Global South reflect on crucial questions of federalism and democracy. The discussion will be based on a paper by Arthur Benz prepared for the Forum of Federations, entitled “Federal Democracy and the Challenges of Political Polarization”.

Download the paper here:


Arthur Benz, Professor of Political Science, Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany

Monika LeRoy, Advisor to the Secretary-General, Organization of American States, Washington D.C., United States

Nico Steytler, South African Research Chair in Multilevel Government, Law and Development, Dullah Omar Institute of Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

Rekha Saxena, Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi, India


Rupak Chattopadhyay, President and CEO, Forum of Federations