Opposition Strategies Between Cooperation and Conflict: An Analysis of Opposition Party Voting in the German Bundestag, 1949-2013

12.03.2018 - 12:00 to 13:30
Location : 
A 5,6 Raum A 231
Type of Event : 
AB B-Kolloquium
Prof. Ulrich Sieberer
Lecturer affiliation: 
Universität Bamberg

Even though organized opposition is essential for representative democracy, systematic research on the behavior of opposition parties in the legislative arena is scarce. Back in the 1960s, Robert Dahl distinguished between competitive and cooperative opposition strategies. While this distinction has frequently been cited, systematic studies of the extent to which opposition parties pursue these strategies and of the reasons why they choose one over the other are extremely rare. This paper analyzes under what conditions opposition parties pursue cooperative or confrontational strategies in parliament and how is this decision influenced by institutional incentives. We study this question based on all roll call votes in the German Bundestag between 1949 and 2013. Drawing on an extended spatial model, we conceptualize opposition behavior as driven by policy motives and the desire to send signals towards voters and other parties. We argue that position-taking with regard to the electoral arena is decisive for the strategy an opposition party chooses. Our analysis shows that opposition parties pursue more competitive strategies the more salient the topic of the vote is and if the relevant motion was sponsored by the party itself or, to a lesser degree, by the government. These strategic concerns mediate the effect of policy preferences. We show that growing ideological distance to the proposal increases the likelihood of competitive behavior only for salient policy fields but has little discernible effect in policy areas that are electorally less relevant.