Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Proximity, Candidates, and Presidential Power: How Directly Elected Presidents Shape the Legislative Party System

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Proximity, Candidates, and Presidential Power: How Directly Elected Presidents Shape the Legislative Party System

Article excerpt

Introduction

There is a vast literature on the determinants of legislative party systems. At the most general level, there is basic agreement that institutional and social factors interact to generate party system structures. To this end, scholars typically focus on the effects of specific electoral systems and the impact of social heterogeneity (Cox 1997; Lijphart 1994; Mozaffar, Scarritt, and Galaich 2003). However, scholars have increasingly integrated other fac- tors into the study of legislative party systems. Specifically, there is an ongoing debate about the effect of direct presidential elections. Here, there is support for the proposition that presidential coattails help to shape the legislative party system (Amorim Neto and Cox 1997; Golder 2006; Hicken and Stoll 2013; Mozaffar, Scarritt, and Galaich 2003; Samuels and Shugart 2010; Shugart 1995; Stoll 2013). The idea that the relative proximity of presidential and legislative elections is a determinant of the electoral competition is highly intuitive. However, recent work has stressed how the effect of presidential coattails is contingent upon other factors. Amorim Neto and Cox (1997) and Golder (2006) have emphasized the interaction between the proximity of elections and the effective number of presidential candidates (ENPC) at the previous presidential election. In turn, Hicken and Stoll (2013) have stressed the importance of presidential power (PRESPOW) as a further interaction term.

In this article, we build on existing work. First, we argue that propositions about presidential coattails should be tested solely on the population of countries with direct presidential elections, whereas to date such propositions have included parliamentary republics and monarchies in the sample. Second, we follow Hicken and Stoll in hypothesizing that PRESPOW is likely to shape the ENPC in a way that will have a reductive effect on the legislative party system, but we argue that this reduction will be clearly observed only within an intermediary range of PRESPOW. This is because political parties have a distinct incentive to coordinate their electoral behavior at presidential elections only within such a range. By contrast, with both weak and strong presidents, there are conflicting coordination incentives. When we test our proposition on a selection of democracies with direct presidential elections in the period 1945-2011 inclusive, we find good support for it. However, we also show that with different measures of PRESPOW, the reductive effect of PRESPOW can be seen when there are weak presidencies too. Overall, our findings suggest that the effect of presidential coattails is less important than has typically been suggested, that by contrast PRESPOW has an influence on the legislative party system, but also that we need to think carefully about how to capture vari- ation in PRESPOW when trying to estimate its effect. This latter point applies not only to the debate about the determinants of the legislative party system but also to debates about the effect of PRESPOW more generally.

Theory

There is now a considerable body of work on the determi- nants of party systems. The effects of electoral systems are well known (Shugart 2005). However, the institu- tional determinants of party systems are not confined to electoral systems. Increasingly, there is an interest in the impact of direct presidential elections on the number of competitive political parties at legislative elections. When the president is elected on a separate ballot from members of the legislature, parties have to compete at two separate contests. This generates the potential for what Samuels and Shugart (2010, chapter 5) call "an electoral separa- tion of purpose." The electoral separation of purpose can vary. A low separation of purpose occurs when the presi- dential and legislative electorates of parties overlap. When this happens, similar to parliamentary systems presidents neither hurt nor improve their parties' fortunes in legislative elections. …

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