Policy Distance and Parliamentary Government
Legislative Studies Quarterly XXIII:319-45

The policy-distance assumption stipulates that a party's incentive to join a parliamentary coalition government decreases with the distance between its policies and those of the government. Based on this assumption, recent formal work has posited a connection between the size and relative ideological centrality of the formateur party and the formation of smaller, especially minority, governments. Under these models, policy distance affects government composition in two ways: by influencing how large the government will be, and by influencing which parties will participate in it. This paper tests for these effects at both the government and party levels, using data sets covering West European parliamentary democracies in the 1945-89 era and incorporating two different measures of ideological positions. The findings support both effects, and in addition, show that the emergence of external support parties is influenced by considerations of policy distance. Although the formal models are not wholly sustained, the evidence strongly indicates that policy distance is critical to parliamentary government.

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