Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Executive Toolbox: Building Legislative Support in a Multiparty Presidential Regime

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Executive Toolbox: Building Legislative Support in a Multiparty Presidential Regime

Article excerpt


How do presidents win legislative support under conditions of extreme multipartism? Comparative presidential research has offered two parallel answers, one relying on distributive politics and the other claiming that legislative success is a function of coalition formation. The authors merge these insights in an integrated approach to executive-legislative relations while also considering dynamism and particular bargaining contexts. The authors find that the two presidential "tools"-pork and coalition goods-function as imperfect substitutes. Coalition goods establish an exchange baseline, while pork covers the ongoing costs of operation. Pork expenditures also depend upon a president's bargaining leverage and the distribution of legislative seats.


multiparty presidentialism, legislative support, pork, Brazil

In the early 1990s, the critique of presidentialism advanced by Linz (1994) and others was widely influential, and the coexistence of presidentialism with multipartism was viewed as a particularly "difficult combination." Multipartism was expected to exacerbate the "perils of presidentialism" by increasing the probability of deadlock in executive-legislative relations, promoting ideological polarization, and making interparty coalition building difficult to achieve (Mainwaring 1993; Stepan and Skach 1993). The best chance for the survival of presidential democracies, it was argued, lay in the adoption of a two-party format, which would reduce polarization, obviate coalitional politics, and promote governability. Yet multiparty presidentialism was here to stay. This unanticipated outcome has raised questions about how presidents have managed this "difficult combination." That multiparty presidential democracy is sustainable is now beyond dispute, yet we lack a comprehensive explanation for this durability. This paper aims to extend and refine recent models of multiparty presidentialism by adopting a wider perspective on the "tools" available to presidents who face fragmented legislatures.

Institutional approaches to these questions have produced promising evidence. As Shugart and Carey (1992) anticipated, institutions that help lubricate the machinery of government often appear when constitution writers have reasons to believe that governability will be difficult. As a result, the structure of multiparty presidentialism does not preclude the formation of coalition governments. Quite to the contrary, as Cheibub (2007, 50) observes, "There is a range of possible scenarios in presidential systems where presidents will make coalition offers and parties will find it in their interest to accept them." Coalition presidencies have in fact proven unexpectedly functional and durable (Cheibub, Przeworski, and Saiegh 2004) while becoming the modal form of democracy in Latin America.

In what follows, we first note problems with applying theoretical models designed primarily for parliamentary regimes directly to separation-of-powers regimes. We then build on extant research concerning legislative support in multiparty presidential systems. In so doing, we integrate two separate institutional arguments about how presidents solve the "governability equation" under multipartism. The first of these arguments holds that presidents win support via distributive politics, particularly through the targeted transfer of pork to legislators (e.g., Ames 2001). The second of these arguments (familiar to students of parliamentary government) claims that presidents secure legislative support through the judicious allocation of cabinet portfolios and other such "coalition goods" (e.g., Amorim Neto 2002). Beyond integrating these two approaches, we also complete the picture by adding considerations of dynamic endogeneity and context. After a brief overview of the Brazilian case, we examine differences in executive strategy among recent Brazilian presidents. Empirical analyses support a view of pork and coalition goods as substitutable resources. …

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