Dissolution Threats and Legislative Bargaining

The forthcoming article,Dissolution Threats and Legislative Bargaining” by Michael Becher and Flemming Juul Christiansen is summarized here:
 The power of prime ministers to call an early election is a core feature of many parliamentary democracies. In this article, we argue that prime ministers may use their dissolution power to influence legislative bargaining by making what we call a dissolution threat. This is a public commitment to call a new election unless the legislature achieves a certain outcome, such as passing a major tax reform proposed by the government but opposed by pivotal policymakers. When will prime ministers make dissolution threats?  What are their consequences? Answering these questions is crucial to our understanding of policy making and elections in parliamentary democracies. Despite a well-developed literature on when opportunistic prime ministers call elections, we know remarkably little about whether they also strategically use their dissolution power to influence policy. To address this gap, we propose and empirically evaluate a theoretical model of legislative bargaining where the prime minister has dissolution power and needs the consent of another policymaker, such as a coalition partner, to enact policy. Our simple game-theoretic model develops the intuition that the prime minister’s public support and legislative strength as well as the time until the next constitutionally mandated election are important determinants of the use and effectiveness of dissolution threats. The model suggests, for instance, that favorable public opinion is most likely to be exploited by relatively weak prime ministers long before a new election must be held. Incentives for dissolution threats, in other words, vary considerably across contexts. Analyzing an original time-series data set from a multiparty parliamentary democracy (i.e., Denmark 1974 – 2011), we find evidence in line with key observable implications of the theoretical model. The statistical analysis demonstrates that public support of the government predicts dissolution threats conditional on the government’s legislative strength and the time left until an election must be called. As far as we know, this is the first systematic analysis of dissolution threats. We also provide analytical discussions of specific cases to breathe life into the regression results. Taken together, the results provide fairly direct evidence of the usefulness of a strategic bargaining approach to the study of dissolution power and parliamentary governance, complementing existing evidence based on actual dissolution. More generally, they confirm the importance of public opinion for executive-legislative relations in parliamentary systems.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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