Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

Party Coalitions in Local Legislatures in Slovenia and South Dakota: A Research Note

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

Party Coalitions in Local Legislatures in Slovenia and South Dakota: A Research Note

Article excerpt

While our understanding of party politics in national legislatures is quite sophisticated, the phenomenon of local inter-party cooperation has gone largely unexamined. This article investigates party coalitions in local legislatures in South Dakota and Slovenia using a most-dissimilar design. The data presented includes my own interviews with informants in five municipalities in Slovenia and-for the first time anywhere-party coalition data on county commissions in a US state. Both data sources demonstrate a similar propensity among local legislators to engage in broad-spectrum party cooperation. In particular, among South Dakota counties with non-single-party commissions, a clear majority had bipartisan coalitions using a stringent measure, even when controlling for the presence of non-aligned legislators, population size, which party was in the majority, and the electoral system. Some evidence suggests that political culture affects bipartisan cooperation; fiscally-conservative Republican counties are more likely to include a Democrat in their governing coalition than morally-conservative counties. Three factors explain the presence of these broadspectrum coalitions: (1) local legislatures' decisions are primarily administrative in nature, (2) tiny legislatures are less partisan than larger ones, and (3) the "personal vote" for candidates diminishes the role of party.

Our understanding of party politics in national legislatures is quite sophisticated and has grown substantially in recent years/ However, research on parties in local legislatures remains relatively unexplored even three decades after an important call for more work.3 While we see highly partisan battles in national legislatures in both Europe and North America, one recent study points to a propensity for broader party cooperation in Slovenian local legislatures.4 Otherwise, the phenomenon of local inter-party cooperation has gone largely unexamined by political scientists.5 This article adds to this nascent effort by investigating party coalitions in local legislatures in two disparate democracies (i.e., South Dakota and Slovenia). The Slovenian research, published in this journal, indicates that ad hoc coalitions are an everyday occurrence among local legislatures, with some left-right coalitions evident as well.6 For the first time anywhere, I present party coalition data on county commissions in a US state, which shows a similar propensity among local legislators to engage in bipartisan cooperation. I also identify - and evaluate - factors that explain the development of inter-party cooperation in local legislatures in these two divergent settings. If these factors remain important among local legislatures in other contexts, we may hold some hope of correcting the hyperpartisanship in national legislatures that often leads to gridlock.

1 RESEARCH DESIGN

This study uses a most-dissimilar design by comparing two radically different democracies. As explained by Lijphart, this approach differs from the mostsimilar design common to the study of comparative politics.7 In the mostsimilar approach, researchers select units of analysis so that numerous similarities serve as control variables which allow them to identify residual variables. These residuals can then be profitably proxied for a cause-effect relationship. On the other hand, in a most-dissimilar design, the objective is to identify similar outcomes among units that encompass radically divergent independent variables. These facts can then be held up to the light for further examination, which may yield an understanding of the common conditions that produce that outcome.

South Dakota and Slovenia lend themselves well to a most-dissimilar design of party coalitions in local government for a number of reasons. First, historical and cultural traditions between these two states differ dramatically. South Dakota has a long tradition of democratic politics; it joined the union in 1889 as the 39th state. …

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