Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Political Institutions, Competing Principals, and Party Unity in Legislative Voting


Almost all legislators are subordinate to party leadership within their assemblies. To varying degrees, legislators are also subject to pressure from other principals whose demands may conflict with those of party leaders. I present a set of hypotheses on the nature of competing pressures driven by formal political institutions, and test the hypotheses against a new dataset of legislative votes from across 17 different countries. Voting unity is lower where legislators are elected under rules that provide for intra-party competition than where party lists are closed, marginally lower in federal than unitary systems, and the effects on party unity of being in government differ in parliamentary versus presidential systems. In the former, governing parties are more unified than the opposition, win more, and suffer fewer losses due to disunity. In systems with elected presidents, governing parties experience no such boosts in floor unity, and their legislative losses are more apt to result from cross-voting. The results support the competing principals account of party voting in legislatures.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View