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Attributing Policy Influence under Coalition Governance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 September 2020

University of California, San Diego
Academia Sinica
Rice University
Aarhus University
David Fortunato, Associate Professor, School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego, and Department of International Economics, Government and Business, Copenhagen Business School,
Nick C. N. Lin, Assistant Research Fellow, Institute of Political Science, Academia Sinica,
Randolph T. Stevenson, Professor, Department of Political Science, Rice University,
Mathias Wessel Tromborg, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University,


Coalition governance divides policy-making influence across multiple parties, making it challenging for voters to accurately attribute responsibility for outcomes. We argue that many voters overcome this challenge by inferring parties’ policy-making influence using a simple heuristic model that integrates a number of readily available and cheaply obtained informational cues about parties (e.g., their roles in government and legislative seat shares)—while ignoring other cues that, while predictive of real-world influence, are not suitable for heuristic inference (e.g., median party status and bargaining power). Using original data from seven surveys in five countries, we show that voters’ attributions of parties’ policy-making influence are consistent with our proposed inferential strategy. Our findings suggest that while voters certainly have blind spots that cause them to misattribute policy responsibility in some situations, their attributions are generally sensible and consistent with the academic research on multiparty policy making.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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We are grateful to Thomas Gschwend, Indridi Indridason, Bing Powell, Petra Schleiter, Jon Slapin, Yannis Vassiliadis, seminar participants at Aarhus University, Bocconi University, the Copenhagen Business School, Oxford University, the University of Mannheim, and the University of Zurich, panel participants at the 2017 meetings of the American Political Science Association and the Danish Political Science Association, as well as four anonymous reviewers and editor Ken Benoit for comments on the project. All errors belong to us. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse at:


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