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Government-Opposition or Left-Right? The Institutional Determinants of Voting in Legislatures*


This study uses roll-call voting data from 16 legislatures to investigate how the institutional context of politics—such as whether a country is a parliamentary or presidential regime, or has a single-party, coalition or minority government—shapes coalition formation and voting behavior in parliaments. It uses a geometric scaling metric to estimate the “revealed space” in each of these legislatures and a vote-by-vote statistical analysis to identify how much of this space can be explained by government-opposition dynamics as opposed to parties’ (left-right) policy positions. Government-opposition interests, rather than parties’ policy positions, are found to be the main drivers of voting behavior in most institutional contexts. In contrast, issue-by-issue coalition building along a single policy dimension is only found under certain restrictive institutional constraints: presidential regimes with coalition governments or parliamentary systems with minority governments. Put another way, voting in most legislatures is more like Westminster than Washington.

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London School of Economics and Political Science; New York University Abu Dhabi. We would like to thank Gary Cox, Brian Crisp, John Carey, Torun Dewan, John Huber, Amie Kreppel, Nolan McCarty, Slava Mikhaylov and seminar participants at LSE, Princeton, the University of Tokyo, and the European Political Science Association 2011 Conference for helpful comments. All the remaining errors are our own. We are also grateful to John Carey, Scott Desposato, Keith Poole, Yael Shomer, Elena Mielcova and the Voteworld project for sharing their data or making their data publicly available.

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Political Science Research and Methods
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