Or Tuttnauer, Avital Friedman
Unnatural partners: coalescence in Israeli local government

Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 2020: 30, issue 3, pp. 358-378
ISSN: 1745-7289 (print), 1745-7297 (online)

A prominent finding in coalition formation literature is that the underlying political rationale at the subnational level largely follows that of the one revealed by the classic literature on national coalitions. The Israeli political system is extremely centralized, with a local government that is highly dependent on its national counterpart. One could expect such a setting to result in local party behaviour that closely resembles the national one. However, as we show, this is far from being the case. We analyze 34 municipal coalitions in the 17 largest Israeli cities. After establishing that Israeli municipal politics fly in the face of classical coalition formation theories, we turn to explain this discrepancy with a qualitative analysis of interviews with 5 formatuers and 8 councillors. We conclude that mayors face low costs of adding surplus coalition partners, while standing to gain from wider legitimacy, weaker opposition, and constrained future competition. At the same time, municipal lists have strong resource- and policy-related incentives to join the coalition while compromise is met with low political costs. The result is an overwhelming predominance of oversized coalitions and partnerships which would be highly improbable at the national arena.