The Basic Arithmetic of Legislative Decisions

Michael Laver, Kenneth Benoit

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Despite the huge number of possible seat distributions following a general election in a multiparty parliamentary democracy, there are far fewer classes of seat distribution sharing important strategic features. We define an exclusive and exhaustive partition of the universe of theoretically possible n-party systems into five basic classes, the understanding of which facilitates more fruitful modeling of legislative politics, including government formation. Having defined a partition of legislative party systems and elaborated logical implications of this partition, we classify the population of postwar European legislatures. We show empirically that many of these are close to critical boundary conditions, so that stochastic processes involved in any legislative election could easily flip the resulting legislature from one type to another. This is of more than hypothetical interest, since we also show that important political outcomes differ systematically between the classes of party systems-outcomes that include duration of government formation negotiations, type of coalition cabinet that forms, and stability of the resulting government.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)275-291
    Number of pages17
    JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Apr 1 2015

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Political Science and International Relations


    Dive into the research topics of 'The Basic Arithmetic of Legislative Decisions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this