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

G. W. Cox and M. D. McCubbins . 2005. Setting the Agenda: Responsible Party Government in the U.S. House of Representatives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

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

M. Laver and K. A. Shepsle . 1996. Making and Breaking Governments: Cabinets and Legislatures in Parliamentary Democracies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

S. S. Smith 2007. Party Influence in Congress. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

R. Sundaram 1996. A First Course in Optimization Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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