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Laver and Shepsle: Coalitions and Cabinet Government

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Laver and Shepsle. 1990. Coalitions and Cabinet Government. American Political Science Review 84 (Sept): 873-890.

In Brief

Unlike passing a bill or "dividing a dollar," forming a coalition is not the end of politics, but the beginning. Thus, the last three decades' models about coalition-forming that are based on theories of voting in legislatures have missed the boat. When forming a coalition, "rational actors must entertain expectations of subsequent government behavior." This article presents "a model of rational expectations with an emphasis on the credibility of the policy promises of prospective government partners as determined by the allocation of portfolios in the new government. Portfolio allocation becomes the mechanism by which prospective coalitions make credible promises and so inform the expectations of rational agents in the coalition formation process." In other words, legislators decide whether to support a proposed coalition based on which parties control which portfolios, not based on the coalition's policy promises. The coalition cannot make credible policy promises unless they assign portfolios to parties with reputations consistent with these promises.

This is similar to Shepsle and Weingast's arguments in the 1980s about committee logrolls in the US House.

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