When do coalitions form under presidentialism, and why does it matter?

The literature about coalition cabinets has been marked by three main “analytical wages” which led to increasing diversification and sophistication. This extensive production has contributed to bringing about a significant update in the understanding of how and why coalition cabinets form in multiparty presidential regimes. Also, most of the literature has focused on explaining coalition agreements duration or survival, that is why some coalitions are more durable or less brittle than others. Unsurprisingly, the most common arguments presented deal with institutional factors (see, for example, here, here, here and here).

However, very few works have risen the when question. This issue is quite relevant as the presidential system seems to bring a high visibility and predictability to election results, as the winner of the presidential election automatically becomes president. However, when explaining the phenomenon of coalition cabinets, the most common observation made is that they happen because the president’s party could not reach a majority. This statement assumes that coalitions are a product of post-electoral agreements whose objective is to confer to the president a majority that could not be obtained in the election. The main evidence to support this argument amounts to highlighting the minority status of the president elect’s party. According to this argument, the agreements for the forming of coalition cabinets are expected to be short-lived, as they would have been concluded more by necessity than through willingness.

However, although a president’s party may have had no majority in parliament, this situation could be the result of a bargaining strategy, after a previous pre-electoral agreement. Hence, the timing of the operationalization of this type of coalition agreements would be pre-electoral. In other words, the president’s party could not reach a majority alone, because it formed an electoral alliance.

As a matter of fact, in my recent article in Politics, I point out that this situation is far from being causal. Indeed the first descriptive finding of this paper is that, actually, coalition cabinets are – generally – the product of pre-electoral agreements. I present a six-stage timing of coalition agreements, including four degrees of precocity. Secondly, I set out that earlier agreements are relevant conditions for producing enduring coalitions. Last but not least, I show that the most common conditions driven out by the literature (i.e. institutional arguments) seem to have been overrated, when including the timing condition into the model.

Adrián Albala

Adrián Albala

Adrián Albala is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Brasilia, Brazil. His research interests deal with the ‘presidential factor’ in coalition cabinets, in terms of political timing and political alignments and, recently, Bicameralism. He works mostly with comparative politics, latin american politics and comparative methods, with publications in journals such as the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Party Politics, Publius, among others.

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