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Party Coalitions in Multiparty Parliaments: A Game-Theoretic Analysis*

  • Lawrence C. Dodd (a1)

This study focuses on A. Lawrence Lowell's classic thesis that a parliamentary democracy must possess a majority party system if durable cabinets are to exist. The argument of this study is that majority party government is not essential to cabinet durability. Rather, in line with the British analyst W. L. Middleton as well as more contemporary game-theoreticians, the critical factor is held to be the coalitional status of the cabinet: (1) cabinets of minimum winning status should be durable; as cabinets depart from minimum winning status, cabinet durability decreases; (2) the coalitional status of the cabinet that forms is partially a product of party system fractionalization, instability, and polarization. Hypotheses derived from the theory are tested with data drawn from 17 Western parliamentary democracies, from 1918 to 1940 and from 1945 to 1970. The findings generally support the theory. A key to durable government is the minimum winning status of the cabinet. Minimum winning cabinets are possible in multiparty and majority party systems.

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1 Lowell, A. Lawrence, Governments and Parties in Continental Europe (Boston: The Riverside Press, 1896), I, 70, 73; see also Lowell, , The Governments of France, Italy and Germany (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914), pp. 7074.

2 Bryce, James, Modern Democracies (New York: Macmillan Company, 1921), I and II, 121–122, 347348; Laski, Harold J., Parliamentary Government in England (New York: The Viking Press, 1938), pp. 5657; Hermens, Ferdinand A., Democracy or Anarchy? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1941), pp. 16–17, 68–69, 7274; and Duverger, Maurice, Political Parties (London: Methuen Press, 1951).

3 Duverger, pp. 407–408.

4 Blondel, Jean, “Party Systems and Patterns of Government in Western Democracies,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 1 (June, 1968), 198199.

5 Blondel, Jean, An Introduction to Comparative Government (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969), p. 342.

6 For a recent study in this vein see Taylor, Michael and Herman, V. M., “Party Systems and Governmental Stability,” American Political Science Review, 65 (March, 1971), 2837.

7 Duverger, p. 400.

8 The cabinet data analyzed in this study were collected under the auspices of the Minnesota Historical Data Archives. The Archives are directed by William H. Flanigan and Edwin Fogelman under a grant from the Ford Foundation. The data were collected by Ilia Miscoll, currently at the University of Heidelberg (Germany), and by the author. I am grateful to Flanigan and Fogelman for allowing me access to the data, and I owe a huge debt to Ilia Miscoll for her patience and precision. The original sources from which the cabinet data were collected include literally hundreds of scholarly works and newspapers that cannot be cited here. Every attempt was made to verify all data by at least two sources. And, while most of our research was conducted prior to its availability, a useful work for our verification process was von Beyme, Klaus, Die parlamentarischen Regierungssysteme in Europa (Munchen: R. Piper and Co., 1970), pp. 901967.

The party system data were gathered by the author, relying basically on a series of specialized country documents as well as Keesing's Contemporary Archives (London: Keesing's Publication, 19451972); Sternberger, Dolf and Nohlen, Dieter, Die Wahl der Parlamente (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter and Co., 1969); Rokkan, Stein and Meyriat, Jean, International Guide to Electoral Statistics (The Hague: Mouton, 1969).

9 On the nature of parliamentary democracy see Ameller, Michael, Parliaments: A Comparative Study (London: Cossell and Company, Ltd., 1966); Campion, C. M. F. and Liddendale, D. W. S., European Parliamentary Procedure: A Comparative Handbook (London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1953); Friedrich, Carl J., Constitutional Government and. Democracy (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1950), pp. 222–237, 296386.

10 For discussion of party behavior in the various countries, see Sharp, Walter Rice, The Government of the French Republic (New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 1938), pp. 7377; Groennings, Sven, “Patterns, Strategies and Payoffs in Norwegian Coalition Formation,” in The Study of Coalition Behavior, ed. Groennings, Sven, Kelly, E. W., and Leiserson, Michael (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1970); Peter H. Merkl, “Coalition Politics in West Germany,” in Groennings et al., The Study of Coalition Behavior; Secher, Herbert P., “Coalition Government: The Case of the Second Austrian Republic,” American Political Science Review, 52 (September, 1958), 791808; MacRae, Duncan Jr.,, Parliament, Parties and Society in France, 1946–1958 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1967); Galli, Giorgio and Prandi, Alfonso, Patterns of Political Participation in Italy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970); Rustow, Dankwart K., The Politics of Compromise: A Study of Parties and Cabinet Government in Sweden (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1956). See also the various essays in Dahl, Robert A., ed., Political Oppositions in Western Democracies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966). For more general discussions, see Duverger, , Political Parties, pp. 281351; Sven Groennings, “Notes Toward Theories of Coalition Behavior in Multiparty Systems: Formation and Maintenance,” in Groennings et al., The Study of Coalition Behavior.

11 This study will not attempt to include in the analysis the influence of any procedures specific to particular parliaments although such procedures can certainly have a vital influence on cabinet formation and maintenance. For examples, see Loe-wenberg, Gerhard, Parliament in the German Political System (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1966). A systematic cross-national analysis of the nature and consequences of parliamentary procedure is clearly needed by analysts of cabinet behavior. For a recent study of the actual distribution of ministerial positions among cabinet parties see Browne, Eric C. and Franklin, Mark N., “Aspects of Coalition Payoffs in European Parliamentary Democracies,” American Political Science Review, 68 (June, 1973), 453469.

12 Essentially, the thesis, results from the convergence of two schools of analysis. The first school is that represented by Lowell, Blondel, Taylor-Herman, Giovanni Sartori, and others; this school emphasizes the influence of the parliamentary party system on cabinet durability. The second school includes von Neumann and Morgenstern, Riker, Leiserson, Axelrod, Browne, Groennings, and others; some of these scholars were instrumental in developing game-theoretic models, while others have emphasized the potential utility of game-theoretic models in the study of multiparty parliaments. The present study synthesizes the theses of these two schools into a broader theory of cabinet formation and maintenance in multiparty settings. See Jean Blondel, “Party Systems”; A. Lawrence Lowell, Governments and Parties in Continentall Europe; Taylor and Herman, “Party Systems and Governmental Stability”; Sartori, Giovanni, “European Political Parties: The Case of Polarized Pluralism,” in Political Parties and Political Development, ed. LaPalombara, Joseph and Weiner, Myron (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966); von Neumann, John and Morgenstern, Oskar, The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1944); Luce, R. Duncan and Raiffa, Howard, Games and Decisions (New York: John Wiley, 1957); Riker, William H., The Theory of Political Coalitions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962); Leiserson, Michael, “Factions and Coalitions in One-Party Japan: An Interpretation Based on the Theory of Games,” American Political Science Review, 62 (September, 1968) 770—787; Axelrod, Robert, Conflict of Interest (Chicago: Markham, 1970); Browne, Eric C., “Testing Theories of Coalition Formation in the European Context,” Comparative Political Studies, 3 (January, 1971), 115; see also the various articles in Groennings et al., The Study of Coalition Behavior.

13 See Duverger, , Political Parties, pp. 61132; Epstein, Leon D., Political Parties in Western Democracies (New York: Praeger Pub., 1967), pp. 98129; Sorauf, Frank J., Party Politics in America (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1968), pp. 8292. At a more theoretical level see particularly Norman Frolich, Oppenheimer, Joe A. and Young, Oran R., Political Leadership and Collective Goods (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971).

14 These are general assumptions shared with numerous analysts. See for example Downs, Anthony, An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1957), pp. 21–35, 142163; Sjoblom, Gunnar, Party Strategies in a Multiparty System (Sweden: Lund, 1968), pp. 68–95, 250279.

15 Middleton, W. L., The French Political System (London: Ernest Benn, Ltd., 1932), p. 154.

16 Middleton, pp. 107–108.

17 This point is made clearly by Bracher:

The cabinet crises which plagued the German Republic throughout its life were the direct consequences of the nature of German political parties, their unwillingness to form coalitions and to compromise, their rigid ideological stance, their preoccupation with prestige, and their authoritarian tradition.

This was the price paid for the partly forced, partly voluntary rejection of parliament and parties during the monarchy, a policy whose negative aspects were pinpointed very clearly by Max Weber … (who) insisted that the absence of a two-party system was not the obstacle: “Far more important is another difficulty: parliamentary government is possible only if the largest parties of the parliament are in principle on the whole ready to take over the responsible conduct of state …”

See Bracher, Karl Dietrich, The German Dictatorship: The Origin, Structure and Effects of National Socialism (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), p. 78.

18 Riker, , The Theory of Political Coalitions, pp. 7789.

19 For discussions of the nature of empirical interpretation see Holt, Robert T. and Richardson, John M., “Competing Paradigms in Comparative Politics,” The Methodology of Comparative Research ed. Holt, Robert T. and Turner, John E. (New York: The Free Press, 1970), p. 25; Hempel, Carl G., Aspects of Scientific Explanation (New York: The Free Press, 1965), pp. 111–112, 130–133, 184185; Kemeny, John G., A Philosopher Looks at Science (Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand and Co., Inc., 1959), pp. 134138; Kuhn, Thomas, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), pp. 3040. For a more general discussion of the relation of empirical and theoretical analysis in comparative politics see Bill, James A. and Hardgrave, Robert, Comparative Politics: The Quest for Theory (Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Pub. Co., 1973), pp. 141. An excellent example of theory interpretation and testing is contained in Norman Frolich, Joe Oppenheimer, Jeffrey Smith and Oran Young, “Rationality and Voting,” a paper prepared for the Public Choice Society Meetings, New Haven, Connecticut, March 21–23, 1974.

20 See Wildgen, John K., “The Measurement of Hyperfractionalization,” Comparative Political Studies, 4 (July, 1971), 233243. This measure is associated with information theory, particularly the concept of entropy or, as Galtung presents it, “uncertainty.” See Shannon, Claude E. and Weaver, Warren, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1959); Galtung, John, Theory and Methods of Social Research (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967); Theil, Henri, Economics and Information Theory (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967).

21 See Rae, Douglas, The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967); Taylor and Herman, “Party Systems and Governmental Stability”; Wildgen, , “The Measurement of Hyperfractionalization,” p. 236. For other approaches see Pride, Richard A., “Origins of Democracy,” in Sage Professional Papers in Comparative Politics, ed. Eckstein, Harry and Gurr, Ted Robert, 1 (No. 12, 1970), p. 708; Mayer, Lawrence S., “An Analysis of Measures of Crosscutting and Fragmentation,” Comparative Politics, 4 (April, 1972).

22 This index is a variation on Przeworski and Sprague's measure of Party System Institutionalization. See Przeworski, Adam and Sprague, John, “Concepts in Search of Explicit Formulation: A Study in Measurement,” Midwest Journal of Political Science, 15 (May, 1971), 183218.

23 See Lipset, Seymour Martin and Rokkan, Stein, “Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments: An Introduction,” in Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives, ed. Lipset, and Rokkan, (New York: The Free Press, 1967); Lipset, Seymour Martin, “Political Cleavages in ‘Developed’ and ‘Emerging’ Polities,” in Mass Politics: Studies in Political Sociology, ed. Allardt, Erik and Rokkan, Stein (New York: The Free Press, 1970); Middleton, , French Political System, pp. 62133.

24 Similar interpretations are reflected in Bracher, The German Dictatorship; Groennings, , “Notes Toward Theories of Coalition Behavior in Multiparty Systems,” pp. 445465; Sartori, “European Political Parties” in LaPalombara and Weiner, Political Parties and Political Development.

25 This index is similar to the one used by Taylor, and Herman, in “Party Systems and Governmental Stability,” p. 34. Unlike Taylor and Herman, however, I have employed more than one cleavage dimension in my calculations. I do not maintain this measure is an optimal one. An exhaustive treatment of cleavage systems as constraints on party bargaining should include such elements as (1) the intensity of party conflict on cleavage dimensions; (2) the degree to which parties share similar relative positions on various cleavage dimensions (in other words, are cleavages cumulative or crosscutting); (3) differences between parties' intensity and their perceptions of cleavage conflict. These factors as well as party positions on cleavage dimensions should be incorporated eventually into an Index of Cleavage Conflict. For the present, data and measurement problems inhibit this. On some of the problems see Rae, Douglas W. and Taylor, Michael, The Analysis of Political Cleavages (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970).

26 Blondel, “Party Systems and Patterns of Government,” pp. 190–191; Taylor and Herman, “Party Systems and Governmental Stability,” p. 29.

27 This operational definition is not the only conceivable one that is consistent with the theory of cabinet durability outlined in this study. The key question is this: what constitutes a breakdown or change in a party coalition within the cabinet? A variety of answers can be given: (1) any alteration in the distribution of payoffs (ministerial seats) among parties could be viewed as a breakdown in the old coalition and the formation of a new one, even if the parties in the cabinet retained the same number of seats; (2) only “significant” alteration in payoff distribution could constitute a change; (3) only changes in the parties composing the cabinet could be viewed as a change in cabinet coalitional status. There is no easy way to choose among these approaches. My position is that the greater the number of defensible operational definitions that sustain the predictions of the theory, the more faith we can have in the theory. For the present, however, I am constrained by problems of data collection and verification. Consequently, in this study I have limited my definition to the third approach.

28 Sartori, , “European Political Parties: The Case of Polarized Pluralism,” pp. 137140.

29 Eckstein, Harry, Division and Cohesion in Democracy: A Study of Norway (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966), pp. 38, 17–18.

30 Taylor, and Herman, , “Party Systems and Governmental Stability,” pp. 3235.

31 See Allardt, Erik and Rokkan, Stein, eds., Mass Politics (New York: The Free Press, 1970); Lipset, Seymour M. and Rokkan, Stein, eds., Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives (New York: The Free Press, 1967); Rokkan, Stein, Citizens, Elections, Parties (New York: David McKay Company, 1970); Dahl, Robert A., ed., Political Oppositions in Western Democracies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966).

32 Middleton, , French Political System, pp. 151154. For relevant discussions on the nature of cabinet governments and their significance for the regime stability of parliamentary democracies, see Adams, W. G. S., “Has Parliamentary Government Failed?,” The Modern State, ed. Adams, Mary (New York: The Century Company, 1933); Loewenberg, Gerhard, “The Influence of Parliamentary Behavior on Regime Stability,” Comparative Politics, 3 (Jan., 1971), 177179; Fraenkel, Ernest, “Historical Handicaps of German Parliamentarianism,” The Road to Dictatorship, trans. Wilson, Lawrence (London: Oswald Wolff, 1964), pp. 2737; Dietrich-Bracker, Karl, “Problems of Parliamentary Democracy in Europe,” in Comparative Legislative Systems: A Reader in Theory and Research, ed. Hirsch, Herbert and Hancock, M. Donald (New York: The Free Press, 1971), pp. 343359; Shirir, William L., The Collapse of the Third Republic (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969); Ullman, Richard K. and SirKing-Hall, Stephen, German Parliaments: A Study of the Development of Representative Institutions in Germany (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1954), esp. pp. 8791; Williams, Philip M., Crisis and Compromise: Politics in the Fourth Republic (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1964).

33 Lowell, , Governments and Parties, 73.

* Throughout the preparation of this study William H. Flanigan, Edwin Fogelman and W. Phillips Shively provided a constant source of counsel and encouragement. In addition, during the formulation of these ideas I benefited from stimulating discussions with numerous faculty members and graduate colleagues at the University of Minnesota and, at a later stage, I received helpful critiques from Norman Frolich, Joe Oppenheimer, John Pierce, Robert Putnam, Kenneth Shepsle and Oran Young. For a more extensive development of the analysis presented in this article, see Lawrence C. Dodd, Party Coalitions and Parliamentary Government (Princeton University Press: forthcoming, 1975).

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