The Consequences of Bargaining Deadlock During Government Formation

Research question/goal: 

Parliamentary elections are decisive moments in European democracies; however, a government mandate for a single political party is the exception rather than the rule. In fact, the composition of the future government is generally determined by post-election bargaining between political parties, and—as recent experiences in Spain, Germany, and Sweden illustrate—government formation often proves to be a strenuous and protracted process. Yet, while existing research highlights several important determinants of lengthy coalition negotiations, we still know comparatively little about the consequences of coalition bargaining for citizen attitudes and behaviour. At the same time, however, normative theories of political representation as well as empirical research on the economic effects of bargaining delays suggest that bargaining deadlock is a highly consequential political phenomenon.

This research project broadens our understanding of the consequences of bargaining deadlock by exploring three sets of interrelated research questions. First, it investigates how bargaining deadlock affects citizen support for the political system and to what extent fast and smooth coalition talks provoke different reactions with regard to populist attitudes and individual party preferences than strenuous and protracted ones. Second, the project investigates how the media report on bargaining deadlock during government formation. Based on content analyses of mass media and social media reports, it examines the system level relevance (i.e. the salience) of these negotiations and the tonality of media reports towards the political parties and the different partisan actors involved. Finally, the project contributes to experimental research on media effects by employing survey experiments to explore how media reports about post-election bargaining directly affect citizen attitudes and behaviour.

Exploring these questions is crucial also beyond the immediate phenomenon of bargaining deadlock. For instance, how citizens perceive and evaluate prolonged government formation periods may indeed be the missing piece to many persistent empirical puzzles in research on multiparty governments. To the extent that citizens blame political parties for failed government formation talks, parties are likely to internalize the electoral costs of leaving the bargaining table, which, in turn, may explain why they sometimes accept seemingly disadvantageous coalition deals. In addition, exploring these questions has important implications for democratic governance. Indeed, bargaining failure, increased electoral support for anti-system/extremist parties, and the resulting fragmentation of the party system may jointly constitute a vicious circle, which effectively erodes popular support for parliamentary democracies. Finally, the insights generated by this project will guide and inform the communication strategies political parties adopt in order to mitigate the potentially harmful consequences of bargaining deadlock. As such, the project provides a solid empirical foundation to derive recommendations for action.

Current stage: 

[This project has been discontinued at the MZES.]

Fact sheet

2019 to 2021
continued elsewhere
Data Sources: 
Survey data, content analysis of media reports, and experimental data
Geographic Space: 
Western Europe and Central Eastern Europe