What are the similarities between a unitary and federal government system?

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andrewhays0287 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both unitary and federal government systems can be defined by the relationship between the national government, representing the nation as a whole, and any subnational governments, representing subnational divisions like states or provinces. For example, within the United States of America, the national government is on the level of the nation itself, while each state maintains its own subnational or state-level government. 

Within unitary systems, such as the United Kingdom, the national government is supreme, and the majority of power is centralized within it. The national government delegates powers down to the subnational governments, which then exercise these delegated powers and implement policy decisions that originate within the national government. 

Federal systems, such as the United States, tend to have a weaker national government, with powers distributed among the national and subnational levels. This can sometimes lead to conflicts among jurisdictions. Consider the status of medicinal or recreational marijuana in the United States: it is legalized or decriminalized in a number of states while still remaining illegal on a federal level. 

In both systems, there is a great degree of variability in exactly how power is distributed. The United States was originally designed to have a weaker national government with more autonomous states, but, over the course of its history, the national government has consolidated more power. 

All that said, both systems are quite different in how they distribute power and execute matters of policy and law. In terms of similarity, it may only be possible to say that both systems are ways to administer a nation. Ultimately, the unitary/federal split is chiefly concerned with how power is distributed. How the government is formed, how laws are made, how administrations change—all of this is largely removed from the simple question of how power is distributed among administrative divisions. 

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A unitary system of governance features a strong central authority that controls the power in a country. A federal system of governance is based on the division of power between the national and local governments.

Similarities between the two systems of government include the following:

  • Both the unitary and federal systems of government consider elections as an important aspect of their existence. The two systems extend the opportunity to the citizens and/or different institutions to choose the leaders.
  • The unitary and federal forms of government are both systems of national administration. The administrative responsibility creates a sense of order and direction for the country.
  • The unitary and federal systems of government are both responsible for resource management in line with national administrative obligations.
  • The two systems of government are also responsible for policy formulation and implementation. The policies are important in achieving the set goals and objectives at the national and local levels.
  • The two systems are responsible for representing the peoples’ will and wishes in government.
  • The unitary and federal systems of government are responsible for representing the country in regional and international discussions and agreements.
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are not necessarily any similarities at all between these two systems other than the fact that both have governments.  These two systems can be quite different.

In a federal system, power is shared (by law) between a national government and local governments (often called state or provincial governments).  Neither level of government can legally take power away from the other level.  In a unitary system, things are different.  The national government is the only government that has the right to exist.  The national government can create local governments and give them powers, but it can always take those powers away.  The national government, in this system, is all-powerful and the local governments (if they exist) only have whatever powers the national government decides that they should have.

From this, we can see that these two have little in common.  Both systems can have national and local governments, but they do not have to.  Both systems can be democratic, but they do not have to be.  The only thing that they have to have in common is that they both have to have a national government of some sort.