The Institutional Foundations of Legislative Speech

Research question/goal: 

This project examined from a comparative perspective how political institutions and electoral dynamics influence the ways in which politicians participate in legislative debate. In political systems where electoral institutions provide parties with incentives to present voters with a unified front, parties actively monitor their MPs to ensure that they do not stake out positions that run contrary to the party line. In political systems where MPs must create a name for themselves to keep a parliamentary seat, parties make fewer efforts to control their MPs' speeches. This dynamic has implications for the design of procedural rules in parliament, how party leaders interact with backbenchers, and how MPs represent voters. The model predicts that strategic calculations by party leaders and backbenchers lead to substantial selection effects in the choice of speaker and the content of the speech. These effects, however, are mitigated by political institutions; speeches may better reflect the heterogeneity of parties in political systems where party unity matters less.
The project generated a new dataset on debate participation in Germany, the United Kingdom, and in the European Parliament and conducted a survey among parliamentary party leaders across the OECD. The empirical analysis provided evidence for the strategic intra-party perspective of parliamentary speech. In party-centered systems, parliamentary rules provide leaders with privileged access to the floor of parliament. In contrast, in candidate-centered systems, rules allow backbenchers to take the floor without party approval. Party leaders are more likely to give a speech in Germany than in the UK. Party dissidents, on the other hand, are more likely to give a speech in the UK and in the European Parliament, compared with Germany. These results are consistent with the theoretical expectations that speech behavior varies with electoral incentives.
The project offers new insights into political institutions, intra-party politics, and parliamentary politics. For scholars interested in party politics, the project provides a model that explains how strategic considerations can lead party leaders to control their party's message despite the popular notion that parliaments are open deliberative forums. For scholars interested in parliamentary institutions, the project shows that debates are governed by partisan rules that are endogenous to the electoral context. And, finally, for scholars interested in using speeches as data, the project results suggest that careful attention is necessary when using the data to estimate intra-party cohesion.

Fact sheet

Funding: 
EU Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant, European C
Duration: 
2009 to 2012
Status: 
completed
Data Sources: 
Archives of parliamentary activities in Germany, the UK, and the European Parliament
Geographic Space: 
Germany, UK, European Union

Publications