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Cabinet Ministers Between Politics and Policy

Parties and elections
Policy
VIRTUAL002
Despina Alexiadou
University of Strathclyde
Ilana Shpaizman
Bar Ilan University

Abstract

When people think of the government, they think about the cabinet and its ministers. It is the cabinet that is expected to make policy and de facto promote the agenda of the ruling party or the coalition government. Although, in theory, the cabinet is collectively responsible for making decisions, in practice, because of the complexity of government affairs, the actual decision making is delegated to a higher or lesser degree to individual ministers. According to Laver and Shepsle (1996b), parties are policy dictators within the policy jurisdiction of their ministerial portfolios due to policy complexity, limited ability to monitor policies across the government, and the tacit rule of non-intervention. In contrast, Austen-Smith and Banks (1988) but also Martin and Vanberg (2014) argue that policy is the outcome of policy compromise in government, reflecting parties' legislative size; it is not cabinet portfolio allocation that predicts policy but the size of parties. A number of institutional and electoral conditions have been provided to resolve whether policy is decided by individual ministers or collectively by the cabinet. The number of institutional veto players (Becher 2010), the legislature's ability to police ministerial departments (Martin and Vanberg 2020) and parties' electoral pledges (Alexiadou and Hoepfner 2019) appear to play an important role in the extent to which ministers can dictate policy. Despite the richness of the findings, this research agenda has a number of limitations. It does not take into account the bureaucratic organization of ministerial portfolios and their impact on policy. Since portfolio design and re-allocation of policies is common and strategic (Dewan and Hortala‐Vallve 2011; Sieberer et al. 2019), more research is necessary before we understand how portfolio allocation and portfolio design interact and shape policy outcomes. Ministerial policymaking also involves constant negotiation of policy between senior and junior ministers (Thies 2001), ministers across different departments, as well as the interaction between senior civil servants and ministers. These questions are still mostly unexplored with some important and rare contributions (Askim, Karlsen, and Kolltveit 2018). In all of the above discussion, the role of individual ministers is absent. Cabinet ministers themselves can play a crucial role in policymaking as individuals who bring varying degrees of policy expertise, political experience but also divergent political and policy ambitions. Although formally, all cabinet ministers have agenda-setting power, they differ in the degree to which they use it. Some ministers promote significant policy changes while others mostly maintain the status quo (Alexiadou 2016a; Marsh, Richards, and Smith 2000). Existing research on cabinet ministers focuses mostly on the ministerial selection (Dowding 2014; Dowding and Dumont 2008; Huber and Martinez-Gallardo 2008) and much less on the outcome of this selection in terms of policymaking. Recent studies suggest that there is a tight connection between the type of minister selected and her policy outcome (Alexiadou 2016a). More generally, policy reforms can vary by the interaction of government partisanship and the ideological position and political seniority of cabinet ministers (Alexiadou 2016b; Bogliaccini 2020; Kaplan 2017; Wenzelburger and Staff 2017).

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