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Opposition Structure and Government Policy Making in Parliamentary Democracies


I examine how the structure of the party system, specifically the structure of the opposition, influences government policy making in multi-party parliamentary democracies. In parliamentary countries a party or a coalition of parties backed by the majority of the legislature is considered to be the government, and the rest of the parties in the legislature are the opposition. In a parliamentary country, legislation needs to be supported by a legislative majority. Because of this, previous literature has examined how the ideology and the structure of the government influences policy making.

This dissertation contains two main parts. First, I propose that the government's strategic environment influences policy making. I show that when the opposition is unified, and there is a coalition government, government spending increases. Second, I explore long term strategic alliances between parties that cooperate in the opposition. I call these alliances stable coalitions, and I propose that they change the structure of the opposition.

In the first part, I show that when a coalition government faces the opposition, spending increases when the opposition is unified as opposed to when the opposition is fragmented. I argue that this is because the smaller party in the government coalition has leverage — it can join the unified opposition and therefore transform them into the new majority. I argue that in this case, when the small coalition partner is pivotal, the bigger coalition partner will pay them more in goods to ensure their continued membership, which will increase government spending overall. I provide evidence for this proposition through a cross-sectional time-series data analysis of 16 European Countries from 1970-2013.

In the second part, I focus on pre-electoral coalitions that stay allied in the long term. I refer to them as stable coalitions. I argue that because stable coalitions do not dissolve when their parties are in the opposition, it is necessary to examine these alliances in order to understand the government's strategic environment. First, I test two extant hypotheses using data from France: that pre-electoral coalitions form because the parties are ideologically close, and that pre-electoral coalitions form because the parties are electorally synergistic. I find that these propositions are true. In the following chapter however, I also find that the causality may run in the opposite direction, and parties that are in stable coalitions narrow their ideological differences and instruct their members to vote strategically. I argue that stable coalitions exist because the member parties can expand their support bases and thus increase their electoral success. Accordingly, stable coalitions are beneficial in the long run and allow parties in the opposition to pose a unified threat to the government.

Overall, I explore a previously understudied aspect of politics: the role of the opposition in policy making. I find that the party system, specifically competition in the party system, influences the government. Previous studies of policy making and representation are incomplete due to their failure to carefully consider how parties strategize in and out of government.

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