Features of Federalism

What Is Federalism?

Federalism is a political system in which government power and responsibility is divided between a federal legislature and a number of state or provincial legislatures. It defines the division of governmental functions and the financial relationships between different levels of government. In most instances of federalism there is a single national government, often referred to as the "federal government," which exercises its particular powers across the whole country. In addition, there are multiple regional governments, often referred to as "provincial" or "state" governments, which exercise their powers within their particular regional territory.


1. Governments Can be More Responsive to Citizens

The closer a government entity is to its citizens, the more likely it is the respond to the needs of citizens. States are more likely to listen to citizen needs, and respond to them, than the national government would be.

2. Federalism improves efficiency

Even though we may think of hundreds of governments as inefficient, governing the entire nation from one central location would be even worse. Imagine the bureaucracy, red tape, delays, and confusion if every government activity in every community in the nation—police, schools, roads, fire departments, garbage collections, sewage disposal, street lighting, and

3. A Better Understanding

The central government has no true way to understand what issues and changes need to be made in every area of the country. This is why federalism is such a great advantage. The smaller branches of the local governments are right in the middle of the local society. They are better suited to deal with the true things that need to be changed.

4. Federalism helps manage conflict

Permitting states and communities to pursue their own policies reduces the pressures that would build up at the national level if the national government had to decide everything. Federalism permits citizens to decide many things at the state and local levels of government and avoid battling over single national policies to be applied uniformly throughout the land.

5. Federalism embraces diversity

Federalism, a system of government in which entities such as states or provinces share power with a national government, permits diversity and accommodates the differences between people and regions to create stronger components, which make a stronger nation. This is the argument for dividing powers between national and state governments, and for further dividing state powers among many types of local governments.

6. Separation of power

By not allowing one body of government to hold all power over the country, you help to prevent any harmful and negative things from happening to some areas of the country. This is why having multiple sectors of the government is so important in federalism. The widespread distribution of power is generally regarded as a protection against tyranny.

7. Additional check on government power

One of the most often cited benefits of federalism is that it acts as an additional check on government power. In unitary states, governmental power is usually highly centralized within a single level of government. In federal states, by contrast, power can be dispersed amongst multiple levels of government. Accordingly, it is much more difficult for one set of political elites to control the power and direction of government. The different levels, instead, can act as a check on one another in the exercise of political authority.

8. People feel more involved

Federalism increases political participation. In a democracy people have a large say in what happens within the government. Federalism creates smaller local governments, and allows people to feel even more involved in the decisions and every day workings of their government. This makes people much more proud and excited about their country. It allows more people to run for and hold political office.

9. Innovation in Law and Policy is Encouraged

By allowing for many state governments, different sets of policies can be tried, and the ones found most effective at solving its problems can then be implemented in other states, or on the national level. Something that is rejected in one state can most likely be tried in another state, with competition leading the way, based on effectiveness of those laws.

10. Protect local or regional interests

Many modern nation-states are very large and have highly diverse populations. In some cases, regional groups in one part of the nation can have very different political needs and views than those in other regions. It may be that a region is dominated by a particular religious, ethnic, or linguistic group, which is a minority within the larger nation (such as the French Quebecois in Quebec). Federalism can prevent geographically-based minorities from being at the total mercy of the larger national majority by giving them their own level of government, with their own autonomous political jurisdictions and powers. 

Literature on Federalism
Federalism Primer