The Government Agenda in Parliamentary Democracies


  • I would like to thank Bing Powell, Renée Smith, David Austen-Smith, Randy Stevenson, Georg Vanberg, Gary Cox, seminar participants at the University of Rochester, Florida State University, the University of South Carolina, Emory University, the University of Houston, the University of California, San Diego, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions on previous drafts. I would also like to thank the National Science Foundation (SBR-9632734) for supporting my field research as well as the staff of the Tweede Kamer archives in the Netherlands, Madame Baustert-Klein in Luxembourg, and the staff of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in Belgium for their help with the data collection. All analyses were performed in Stata 7.0; data are available from the author upon request.

Lanny W. Martin is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Rice University, Houston, TX 77251-1892 (


Lawmaking is a challenge for coalition governments because it inherently demands cooperation and compromise by parties with divergent policy goals. The jurisdictional system of cabinet government exacerbates the problem by providing parties the means to undermine the coalition bargain in the pursuit of their own policy interests. In this article, I explore whether arrangements that allow partners to police one another induce compromise on one of the most important decisions taken by a government—the organization of the policy agenda. In an analysis of original data on the timing and policy content of over 800 government bills from four European democracies, I show that coalition governments pursue a largely “accommodative” agenda. Policy initiatives dealing with issues that are more attractive to all partners in the coalition are likely to be given priority on the agenda, while those dealing with relatively unattractive issues are likely to be postponed.