Cabinet formation and portfolio distribution in European multiparty systems

Cutler, Josh and De Marchi, Scott and Gallop, Max and Hollenbach, Florian M. and Laver, Michael and Orlowski, Matthias (2016) Cabinet formation and portfolio distribution in European multiparty systems. British Journal of Political Science, 46 (1). pp. 31-43. ISSN 0007-1234 (

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Government formation in multiparty systems is of self-evident substantive importance, and the subject of an enormous theoretical literature. Empirical evaluations of models of government formation tend to separate government formation per se from the distribution of key government pay-offs, such as cabinet portfolios, between members of the resulting government. Models of government formation are necessarily specified ex ante, absent any knowledge of the government that forms. Models of the distribution of cabinet portfolios are typically, though not necessarily, specified ex post, taking into account knowledge of the identity of some government ‘formateur’ or even of the composition of the eventual cabinet. This disjunction lies at the heart of a notorious contradiction between predictions of the distribution of cabinet portfolios made by canonical models of legislative bargaining and the robust empirical regularity of proportional portfolio allocations – Gamson’s Law. This article resolves this contradiction by specifying and estimating a joint model of cabinet formation and portfolio distribution that, for example, predicts ex ante which parties will receive zero portfolios rather than taking this as given ex post. It concludes that canonical models of legislative bargaining do increase the ability to predict government membership, but that portfolio distribution between government members conforms robustly to a proportionality norm because portfolio distribution follows the much more difficult process of policy bargaining in the typical government formation process.


Cutler, Josh, De Marchi, Scott, Gallop, Max ORCID logoORCID:, Hollenbach, Florian M., Laver, Michael and Orlowski, Matthias;