Tristan Klingelhöfer, Jochen Müller
Consociational and rational coalitions: Norm-based government formation and the case of the Dutch provinces

Acta Politica, 2015: 50, issue 1, pp. 101-124
ISSN: 0001-6810 (print); 1741-1416 (online)

Following conventional models of coalition formation, parties should prefer coalitions that have a parliamentary majority, preferably with few parties that are very similar in ideological terms. However, empirically, we observe astonishing systematic deviations from this prediction. In some countries, coalition formation can hardly be explained on the basis of the rational-choice paradigm. An example of this is the Dutch system of consociational democracy where we observe a prominent role of parties that represent the social pillars. In this article, we analyze coalition formation in the Dutch provinces over the last 20 years and supplement established theories of coalition formation by a consociational democratic perspective. In accordance with this perspective, we find that more inclusive coalitions as well as coalitions that include the three pillar parties are indeed more likely to be formed. However, we detect considerable temporal variation. Coalition formation in the Dutch provinces can increasingly be explained with the help of conventional models, whereas norm-based deviations are less common than in the past. We attempt a pragmatist interpretation of this change. More generally, we join a recent move in the literature showing how more fine-tuned explanations can lead to a more complete picture of coalition formation.