Dividing the Executive Pie. The Politics of Portfolio Design in European Democracies
Over the last decades, coalition research has greatly advanced our understanding of how political parties form government coalitions and divide the spoils of office among them. Regarding the later aspect, the research on portfolio allocation has established a strong proportionality rule in distributing cabinet positions quantitatively (‘Gamson’s Law’, e.g. Warwick & Druckman, 2006) and demonstrated the importance of parties’ policy profiles for the qualitative allocation of specific ministries to individual parties (e.g. Bäck, Debus, & Dumont, 2011). This research starts from the assumption that ministries as the fundamental payoffs to be distributed are fixed. This paper challenges this fundamental assumption both conceptually and empirically and thus contributes to the emerging literature on the design of government portfolios (e.g. Dewan & Hortala-Vallve, 2011; Indridason & Bowler, 2014; Mortensen & Green-Pedersen, 2015; Sieberer, 2015).
On the conceptual level, we argue that the deliberate institutional design of cabinet portfolios constitutes a distinct dimension on which parties pursue their office and policy goals during coalition formation. We discuss theoretical expectations on which factors should drive reforms in portfolio design from a rational choice institutionalist perspective. In particular, we discuss the salience that parties attribute to different policy areas, the distribution of bargaining power during coalition negotiations, the formal rules for (re-)designing portfolios, and intra-party politics. Methodologically, we outline challenges involved in conceptualizing such changes in cross-national research and suggest various dimensions along which reforms in portfolio design can be assessed empirically. Empirically, the paper provides original data from a comparative study of eleven Western European democracies. The data show that cabinet portfolios undergo frequent and often substantial changes. Descriptive analyses underscore the relevance of the phenomenon for future research on portfolio allocation and coalition governance more broadly.
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