Government StudiesHistory Classroom

Concepts of Government: Legitimacy

Definition of Legitimacy in Government Studies

The word legitimacy is coined from the Latin word legitimus which means “according to law”. Therefore, legitimacy in government studies can be defined as the popular acceptance of a government, political regime, or system of governance. 

For a government to successfully govern a state, it must enjoy the full support and popular acceptance of the electorates or citizens. This is the reason why legitimacy/political legitimacy remain an important feature of a government.

A legitimate government comes to power through the consent of the people by voting it in. Many people believe that legitimacy cannot be found in a coercive government (military government). However, the military can enjoy legitimacy by making popular government policies. In a legitimate government, obedience is not based on fear of sanctions but on loyalty to the ruler and the state.

Factors that Determines Legitimacy of a Government

The following factors show the way by which a government can be a legitimate one.

1. Free and fair election – Election is the most common way of installing a government in a democratic state. If a government is installed with a free and fair election, such government will have the people’s mandate to govern them.

2. Good governance – If the administration of the state is run by the government efficiently, effectively and constitutionally, such government will be recognized by the people. In other words, people tend to recognize a government that provides the basic needs of the people such as good roads, water, security and so on.

3. Good Leadership – A leader that posses good qualities and character will be supported and recognised by his people.

4. Economic Development – If the economic development of a state is on a high scale, people will accept and support the government.

5. Mass or popular participation – The more the citizens participates in the affairs of a state, the more the government earn recognition and support.

6. Customs and tradition – Respect for the customs and traditions of the society can earn a government legitimacy.

Thanks for reading,


  1. C. C. Dibie; Essential Government For Senior Secondary Schools; 3rd edition; 2008; Ado Ekiti; Tonad Publishers

Kindly drop a comment below if you find this helpful or you have a question.

Cite this article as: Teslim Omipidan. (November 14, 2016). Concepts of Government: Legitimacy. OldNaija. Retrieved from


  1. Thanks a lot! Have really gained so much by reading this wonderful article..
    Keep up the good work, GOD will see you through.

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