COURSE: Parties in Government

Course content

‘Who gets in?’, ‘Who gets what?’ and ‘How long will it last?’ are some of the key questions in the study of governments in parliamentary democracies (Laver and Schofield 1990). This course examines these questions, focusing on the parties that make up those governments. Which parties get into government and which are excluded? Which governmental offices are they allocated? Under what conditions do incumbent parties influence policy? What kinds of parties are more (and less) durable in government? What happens to these parties after a spell in government? The course provides students with an appreciation of the nature of government in parliamentary democracies and the challenges and opportunities encountered by incumbents. It is centred on regular reading and participation in class and it places a strong emphasis on recent research literature. It includes some workshop-style sessions that provide students with opportunities to develop their knowledge of the sources of data and case-study information available to them, to apply their substantive and methodological knowledge to the topics covered and to develop a basis for their term paper.



Bachelorlevel: 10 ECTS
Masterlevel: 7,5 ECTS

Learning outcome

By the end of the term, students should be able to:

  1. understand some important similarities and differences among parliamentary democracies;
  2. source information and data on key aspects of the government lifecycle;
  3. make cross-national comparisons of stages in governments’ lifecycles using carefully selected empirical cases;
  4. identify determinants of variation in outcomes of legislative and coalition bargaining;
  5. identify current research puzzles and unresolved problems in the literature;
  6. develop solutions to these puzzles and problems.

Preparation for class

You are expected to have read the articles and chapters on this syllabus before coming to each class. Each class (with the exception of workshop sessions and the first and last classes) will feature a brief summary and discussion of two articles by students, as well as a broader class discussion of the literature.

Before each of these classes (with the exception of the first and last classes), find one or two cases that illustrate the issues under discussion (e.g., an instance of a party entering government, a support party, a defection from governmentn) and be prepared to describe them. You can find information on these events in the media, in the literature, or in the sources of information that I will refer to in class. The course takes a comparative perspective, so please try to go beyond the country that you know best!

In workshop sessions, we will look at data sources, case selection strategies, and individual cases. Please bring a laptop to these sessions if you have one. Workshop sessions will involve preparation and group-work. Details to be announced.

I have identified some core readings for each class. They are posted on Absalon. If you are having trouble finding a reading, let me know. If you want to pursue a topic covered below in more depth, use these readings as a starting point. I will suggest additional readings in class. If there is something that we do not cover that you would like to read about, I am available to advise you.


  1. Introduction. Parties and governments in parliamentary democracies.

Strøm, K., 2000. Delegation and accountability in parliamentary democracies. European Journal of Political Research, 37(3), pp.261–289.

Mair, P., 2008. The Challenge to Party Government. West European Politics, 31(1), pp.211–234.

Dalton, R.J., Farrell, D.M. & McAllister, I., 2011. Political parties and democratic linkage: how parties organize democracy, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. pp.3–26 and pp.215–234.


Part 1: Who gets in?

  1. Government coalitions: who gets in?

Dumont, P., Winter, L. de & Andeweg, R.B., 2011. From coalition theory to coalition puzzles. In R. W. Andeweg, L. D. Winter, & P. Dumont, eds. Puzzles of Government Formation: Coalition Theory and Deviant Cases. Routledge, pp. 1–23.

Döring, H. & Hellström, J., 2013. Who Gets into Government? Coalition Formation in European Democracies. West European Politics, 36(4), pp.683–703.

Tavits, M., 2008. The Role of Parties’ Past Behavior in Coalition Formation. American Political Science Review, 102(04), pp.495–507.

     When nobody gets in:

McDonnell, D. & Valbruzzi, M., 2014. Defining and classifying technocrat-led and technocratic governments. European Journal of Political Research, 53(4), pp. 654–671.

  1. Who is left out? The case of support parties.

Strøm, K., 1990. Minority Government and Majority Rule, Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 4, pp.93–131.

Bale, T. & Bergman, T., 2006. A Taste of Honey Is Worse Than None at All?: Coping with the Generic Challenges of Support Party Status in Sweden and New Zealand. Party Politics, 12(2), pp.189–202.

Juul Christiansen, F. & Damgaard, E., 2008. Parliamentary Opposition under Minority Parliamentarism: Scandinavia. The Journal of Legislative Studies, 14(1-2), pp.46–76.

Thesen, G., 2015. Win some, lose none? Support parties at the polls and in political agenda-setting. Political Studies. Early view.


Bäck, H. and Dumont, P., 2007. Combining large-n and small-n strategies: The way forward in coalition research. West European Politics, 30 (3), pp. 467 – 501.

Seawright, J. and Gerring, J., 2008. Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research. Political Research Quarterly, 61 (2), pp. 294 –308.

Lieberman, E.S., 2005. Nested Analysis as a Mixed-Method Strategy for Comparative Research. American Political Science Review, 99 (03), pp. 435–452.

Part 2: Who gets what?

  1. Who gets what (or how much)? Parties and (quantitative) portfolio allocation.

Browne, E.C. and Franklin, M.N., 1973. Aspects of Coalition Payoffs in European Parliamentary Democracies. The American Political Science Review, 67 (2), pp. 453–469.

Warwick, P.V. & Druckman, J.N., 2006. The portfolio allocation paradox: An investigation into the nature of a very strong but puzzling relationship. European Journal of Political Research, 45(4), pp.635–665.

Bäck, H., Meier, H.E. & Persson, T., 2009. Party Size and Portfolio Payoffs: The Proportional Allocation of Ministerial Posts in Coalition Governments. The Journal of Legislative Studies, 15(1), pp.10–34.

Cutler, J., De Marchi, S., Gallop, M., Hollenbach, F.M., Laver, M., and Orlowski, M., 2016. Cabinet Formation and Portfolio Distribution in European Multiparty Systems. British Journal of Political Science, 46 (01), 31–43.


  1. Who gets what? Parties and (qualitative) portfolio allocation.

Ecker, A., Meyer, T.M., and Müller, W.C., 2015. The distribution of individual cabinet positions in coalition governments: A sequential approach. European Journal of Political Research, n/a–n/a.

Bäck, H., Debus, M. & Dumont, P., 2011. Who gets what in coalition governments? Predictors of portfolio allocation in parliamentary democracies. European Journal of Political Research, 50(4), pp.441–478.

Budge, I. and Keman, H., 1990. Parties and Democracy: Coalition Formation and Government Functioning in Twenty States. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chapter 4, pp. 89-131.

Ecker, A., Meyer, T.M., and Müller, W.C., 2015. The distribution of individual cabinet positions in coalition governments: A sequential approach. European Journal of Political Research, n/a–n/a.


  1. The availability and use of control mechanisms in government.

Strøm, K., Müller, W.C., and Smith, D.M., 2010. Parliamentary Control of Coalition Governments. Annual Review of Political Science, 13 (1), 517–535.

Moury, C., 2011. Coalition agreement and party mandate: How coalition agreements constrain the ministers. Party Politics, 17 (3), 385 –404.

Falcó-Gimeno, A., 2014. The use of control mechanisms in coalition governments The role of preference tangentiality and repeated interactions. Party Politics, 20 (3), pp. 341–356.

Shaw, R. and Eichbaum, C., 2014. Ministers, Minders and the Core Executive: Why Ministers Appoint Political Advisers in Westminster Contexts. Parliamentary Affairs, 67 (3), 584–616.


  1. Who gets what? Parties and policy..

See Mair 2008, Session 1.

Häusermann, S., Picot, G. & Geering, D., 2013. Review Article: Rethinking Party Politics and the Welfare State – Recent Advances in the Literature. British Journal of Political Science, 43(01), pp. 221–240.

Costello, R. & Thomson, R., 2008. Election Pledges and their Enactment in Coalition Governments: A Comparative Analysis of Ireland. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, 18(3), pp.239–256.

Knill, Christoph, Marc Debus, and Stephan Heichel. 2010. Do Parties Matter in Internationalised Policy Areas? The Impact of Political Parties on Environmental Policy Outputs in 18 OECD Countries, 1970-2000. European Journal of Political Research 49 (3), pp.301–336.

Garritzmann, Julian L., and Kilian Seng. 2015. Party Politics and Education Spending: Challenging Some Common Wisdom. Journal of European Public Policy. Early view.


Part 3: How long does it last?


  1. How long do governments last and why do they end?

Laver, M., 2003. Government Termination. Annual Review of Political Science, 6(1), pp.23–40.

Mershon, C., 1996. The Costs of Coalition: Coalition Theories and Italian Governments. The American Political Science Review, 90 (3), pp. 534–554.

Damgaard, E., 2008. Cabinet termination. In: K. Strom, W.C. Müller, and T. Bergman, eds. Cabinets and Coalition Bargaining: The Democratic Life Cycle in Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 301–326.

Saalfeld, T., 2008. Institutions, Chances, and Choices: The Dynamics of Cabinet Survival. In: K. Strom, W.C. Müller, and T. Bergman, eds. Cabinets and Coalition Bargaining: The Democratic Life Cycle in Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 327–368.


  1. How long do parties last in government and why do they lose office?

Maeda, K. & Nishikawa, M., 2006. Duration of Party Control in Parliamentary and Presidential Governments. Comparative Political Studies, 39(3), pp.352–374.

Crespo-Tenorio, Adriana, Nathan M. Jensen, and Guillermo Rosas. 2014. Political Liabilities Surviving Banking Crises. Comparative Political Studies 47, pp.1047–1074.

Warwick, P.V., 2012. Dissolvers, disputers, and defectors: the terminators of parliamentary governments. European Political Science Review, 4(02), pp.263–281.

Little, C. 2015. Governmental stability and party durability in government. Working paper.

See also Tavits 2008 (Session 2).


Postscript: What happens next?

  1. What happens next? Parties and postincumbency elections.

Narud, H.M. & Valen, H., 2008. Coalition Membership and Electoral Performance. In K. Strom, W. C. Müller, & T. Bergman, eds. Cabinets and Coalition Bargaining: The Democratic Life Cycle in Western Europe. Comparative politics (Oxford University Press). Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 369–402.

LeDuc, L. & Pammett, J.H., 2013. The fate of governing parties in times of economic crisis. Electoral Studies, 32(3), pp.494–499.

Fortunato, D. and Adams, J., 2015. How voters’ perceptions of junior coalition partners depend on the prime minister’s position. European Journal of Political Research, 54 (3), pp. 601–621.

See also Warwick 2012 (Session 11) and Tavits 2008 (Session 2).


This course may be useful for students who aim to work in government at any level, with politicians or political parties, or in sectors that require a good knowledge of government or a capacity analyse domestic politics in parliamentary democracies (e.g., journalism, law, public affairs).

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28