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The verdict in the polls: how government stability is affected by popular support
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8805-6161
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6613-4242
2019 (English)In: West European Politics, ISSN 0140-2382, E-ISSN 1743-9655, Vol. 42, no 3, p. 593-617Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The idea that the stability of governments is affected by how they are performing in the polls is both intuitive and popular in the literature. When support is low the government might be inclined to replace parties or the prime minister in order to regain support, thus forming a replacement government. Alternatively, a government doing well in the polls might opportunistically try to schedule an early election to capitalise on its favourable prospects. But despite the popularity of the idea, it has thus far not been tested empirically whether government stability is in fact influenced by popular support. This article aims to address this lacuna. Using a relatively new dataset with more than 12,000 unique polls, and recently developed Bayesian models for pooling the polls, it is here shown that government stability is in fact impacted by popular support. Governments display clear signs of electoral opportunism when they are polling well and, conversely, dissolve the government, without calling an election, when polling is bad. The results are strongest when there are few parties in the government, since agreement on the timing for a discretionary termination is easier when fewer players need to agree.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Taylor & Francis, 2019. Vol. 42, no 3, p. 593-617
Keywords [en]
Government stability, polling, party behaviour, comparative politics, early elections, Bayesian estimation
National Category
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalisation Studies)
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-133428DOI: 10.1080/01402382.2018.1490598ISI: 000457984400008OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-133428DiVA, id: diva2:1087849
Funder
Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation, MMW 2011.0030
Note

Early version originally included in thesis in manuscript form.

Available from: 2017-04-10 Created: 2017-04-10 Last updated: 2019-03-18Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Till death do us part: a comparative study of government instability in 28 European democracies
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Till death do us part: a comparative study of government instability in 28 European democracies
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis is rooted in the research tradition known as coalition politics, where governments, political parties and political institutions are the central focus. The main emphasis here is on government instability and the question of why governments in modern parliamentary democracies often come to an end before the next regular election. In five distinct but interrelated papers, the thesis explores the issue of early government termination and how it is affected by public support, economic developments and the functioning of the state apparatus. The studies included in this thesis generally take a quantitative approach and make use of a dataset that contains 640 governments in 29 European democracies. Their joint goal is to improve our understanding of when early termination happens by introducing and testing new explanatory factors as well as by improving how previously identified factors are modelled.

The first paper focuses on Central and Eastern Europe. It shows that the stability of governments in that region is affected by slightly different factors than those that impact on governments in Western Europe. In particular, ideological factors and political institutions are found to be less important in Central and Eastern Europe while the formal power basis of the government and the country’s economic performance matter more. In the second paper, co-authored with Professor Torbjörn Bergman, the state is brought into government stability research. The paper shows that countries with a lower quality of governance and a less efficient public sector have less stable governments. This is mainly because government parties struggle to achieve their policy goals when the state apparatus is inefficient and corrupt.

Paper 3, co-written with Associate Professor Johan Hellström, looks at how different types of governments respond to economic challenges. In particular, this paper demonstrates that the same changes in economic circumstances (e.g. increases in unemployment or inflation) have different effects on cabinet stability depending on which type of government is in charge. Single party governments are better equipped to deal with economic changes, because they are better positioned to devise new policy responses without having to compromise with other parties. Coalition governments, in contrast, become significantly more likely to terminate early when the economy takes a turn for the worse.

Finally, over the course of two papers I first explore new techniques for analysing polling data and then use them to empirically test whether governments sometimes choose termination as a way to cope with bad poll numbers. Most of the existing techniques for pooling polls and forecasting elections were explicitly designed with two party systems in mind. In Paper 4, I test some of these techniques to determine their usefulness in complex, multiparty systems, and I develop some improvements that enable us to take advantage of more of the information in the data. In the final paper, I combine the two themes of polling and government stability by looking at how changes in government popularity affect the likelihood of premature dissolution. I find that governments, particularly single party governments, do, in fact, use terminations as a strategic response to changes in their popularity among the public. When support is high, governments tend to opportunistically call an early election, whereas they tend to abandon or reshuffle the government when support is low.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2017. p. 71
Series
Statsvetenskapliga institutionens skriftserie, ISSN 0349-0831 ; 2017:2
Keywords
Government instability, early termination, polling, coalition studies, comparative politics, duration modelling, Europe, cabinet turnover, cabinet dissolution, parliamentary democracies
National Category
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalisation Studies)
Research subject
political science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-133482 (URN)978-91-7601-699-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2017-05-12, Hörsal C, Lindellhallen, Samhällsvetarhuset, Umeå, 13:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-04-21 Created: 2017-04-12 Last updated: 2018-06-09Bibliographically approved

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Walther, DanielHellström, Johan

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