Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Parties, Coalitions, and the Internal Organization of Legislatures


We present a theory of parties-in-legislatures that can generate partisan policy outcomes despite the absence of any party-imposed voting discipline. Legislators choose all procedures and policies through majority-rule bargaining and cannot commit to vote against their preferences on either. Yet, off-median policy bias occurs in equilibrium because a majority of legislators with correlated preferences has policy-driven incentives to adopt partisan agenda-setting rules—as a consequence, bills reach the floor disproportionately from one side of the ideological spectrum. The model recovers, as special cases, the claims of both partisan and nonpartisan theories in the ongoing debate over the nature of party influence in the U.S. Congress. We show that (1) party influence increases in polarization, and (2) the legislative median controls policy making only when there are no bargaining frictions and no polarization. We discuss the implications of our findings for the theoretical and empirical study of legislatures.

Corresponding author
Daniel Diermeier is IBM Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, and Director of the Ford Center for Global Citizenship, 2001 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 (
Razvan Vlaicu is Assistant Professor, Department of Economics and Affiliate, Department of Government and Politics, University of Maryland, 3105 Tydings Hall, College Park, MD 20742 (
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

J. H. Aldrich 1995. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

J. Banks and J. Duggan . 2006. “A Bargaining Model of Legislative Policy-making.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 1: 4985.

G. W. Cox and K. T. Poole . 2002. “On Measuring Partisanship in Roll-Call Voting: The U.S. House of Representatives, 1877–1999.” American Journal of Political Science 46 (3): 477–89.

D. Diermeier and R. B. Myerson . 1999. “Bicameralism and Its Consequences for the Internal Organization of Legislatures.” American Economic Review 89 (5): 1182–96.

D. Dion and J. Huber . 1996. “Procedural Choice and the House Commitee on Rules.” Journal of Politics 58 (1): 2553.

S. Gailmard and J. Jenkins . 2007. “Negative Agenda Control in the Senate and House of Representatives: Fingerprints of Majority Party Power.” Journal of Politics 69 (3): 689700.

K. Krehbiel 1991. Information and Legislative Organization. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

K. Krehbiel 1995. “Cosponsors and Wafflers from A to Z.” American Journal of Political Science 39: 906–23.

K. Krehbiel 1998. Pivotal Politics: A Theory of U.S. Lawmaking, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

K. Krehbiel 2004. “Legislative Organization.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 18 (1): 113–28.

K. Krehbiel 2006b. “Partisan Roll Rates in a Nonpartisan Legislature.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 23 (1): 123.

E. Lawrence , F. Maltzman , and S. S. Smith . 2006. “Who Wins? Party Effects in Legislative Voting.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 31 (1): 3369.

J. Patty 2007. “The House Discharge Procedure and Majoritarian Politics.” Journal of Politics 69 (3): 678–88.

J. Patty 2008. “Equilibrium Party Government.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (3): 636–55.

D. W. Rohde 1991. Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

E. Schickler and K. Pearson . 2009. “Agenda Control, Majority Party Power, and the House Committee on Rules, 1939–65.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 34 (4): 455–91.

K. Shepsle and B. Weingast . 1981. “Structure-induced Equilibrium and Legislative Choice.” Public Choice 37 (3): 503–19.

J. M. Snyder and T. Groseclose . 2000. “Estimating Party Influence in Congressional Roll-call Voting.” American Journal of Political Science 44 (2): 187205.

J. M. Snyder and M. M. Ting . 2002. “An Informational Rationale for Political Parties.” American Journal of Political Science 46 (1): 90110.

J. M. Snyder , M. M. Ting , and S. Ansolabehere . 2005. “Legislative Bargaining under Weighted Voting.” American Economic Review 95 (4): 9811004.

C. Volden and E. Bergman . 2006. “How Strong Should Our Party Be? Party Member Preferences Over Party Cohesion.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 31 (1): 71104.

B. Weingast and W. Marshall . 1988. “The Industrial Organization of Congress: Or, Why Legislatures, Like Firms, Are Not Organized as Markets.” Journal of Political Economy 96: 132–63.

J. Woon 2008. “Bill Sponsorship in Congress: The Moderating Effect of Agenda Positions on Legislative Proposals.” Journal of Politics 70 (1): 201–16.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *