Is Small Really Beautiful? The Microstate Mistake

Issue Date July 2014
Volume 25
Issue 3
Page Numbers 135-148
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Over the past decade and a half, a number of political scientists have claimed that the world’s microstates—meaning the dozen or so tiny countries with fewer than a hundred-thousand citizens each—are remarkably likely to be democracies. There is only one thing wrong with the story of the “microdemocratic miracle”: It is not true. In fact, small states are not likely to be liberal democracies. The mistaken notion that they are can be traced to a simple flaw in methodology: All the studies purporting to uncover a link between small state size and democracy are based on Freedom House (FH) findings that overemphasize the more formal aspects of democracy while failing to capture the informal but real power relations and pathways of influence that are common in microstates and frequently lead to de facto deviations from democracy.

About the Authors

Jan Erk

Jan Erk is associate professor of comparative politics at Leiden University. His books include The Paradox of Federalism: Does Self-Rule Accommodate or Exacerbate Ethnic Divisions? (2012, edited with Lawrence M. Anderson).

View all work by Jan Erk

Wouter Veenendaal

Wouter Veenendaal holds a doctorate from Leiden University, where he is a teaching instructor. He publishes frequently on comparative politics.

View all work by Wouter Veenendaal