Electoral Incentives and Legislative Behaviour

Research question/goal: 

While the determinants of the success of legislative processes in parliamentary systems have been in the focus of an extensive literature, much less is known about the individual level strategies of the process, e.g., MP sponsoring of bills on a certain topic. There is an apparent discrepancy in the literatures on voting behaviour and legislative politics, with the former arguing that votes are taken for many reasons, notably candidate, party and issue characteristics, while the legislative behaviour of (assumingly vote-seeking) MPs is most often considered as being driven by party politics, but nothing else. Without doubt, party discipline is an essential feature in parliamentary democracies, leaving small leeway for MPs to create their own policy profile and/or represent interests of their geographical constituencies. Yet, parties are not the only factor generating motivation and restrictions for MPs. To understand legislative behaviour of individual MPs, their links and ties to constituencies and colleagues within parliament have also to be taken into account. Hence, our research focuses on the connection of the legislative and the electoral arena. First, electoral systems and voter behaviour provide MPs with distinct electoral incentives to pursue reelection via legislative behaviour. Bill sponsorship, but also other activities, like parliamentary questions, could therefore be targeted at the electorate. Electoral incentives are expected to influence the number and content of bills an MP sponsors or of the questions an MP asks. Second, if MPs do not exclusively follow party directions, this does not mean that they act in isolation. In their legislative behaviour they interact with colleagues of their own or other parties. Especially the legislative activity of introducing bills reveals information on both contexts: on individual legislative activity that possibly relates to the constituency, and on ties between MPs who support bills together. The patterns of cooperation in bill (co)sponsorship can also be expected to be influenced by electoral incentives. The project will shed light on the following questions: In how far are legislative activities a means for gaining a personal vote? What are the electoral motivations for introducing bills or parliamentary questions? Is bill sponsorship about constituency interests? Or does the motivation rather lie in targeting some party faction or in building networks with similar minded MPs? In how far are (co)sponsorship networks affected by electoral incentives of the initiators?

Current stage: 

The aim of the project is to integrate individual factors and dynamic group processes in an analytical framework of legislative behaviour. The project is currently in the stage of data collection and initial analyses. In the past year, the project has collected network data on legislative activity for Germany and Sweden. A grant proposal is currently under preparation.

Fact sheet

2012 to 2015
in preparation
Data Sources: 
official documents and legislative data bases, official statistics, biographic information of MPs
Geographic Space: 
Belgium, France, Germany



Brunner, Martin (2013): Parliaments and Legislative Activity. Motivations for Bill Introduction. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. [Studien zur Neuen Politischen Ökonomie] more