Cohesion and Discipline of the Party in Government: Parliament vs. Congress

Parties matter in part because they influence the actions of elected officials. But scholars also note that lawmakers from the same party may not vote together. Party cohesion has varied over time – sometimes party members stick together on many key votes, at other times they are no more likely to vote with fellow party members than with the opposition. Parties have various means at their disposal to encourage members to cooperate in achieving a party program. Sometimes these tools are sufficiently compelling that individual members may back the party program at the expense of their constituents’ interest.

However the case is quite different in European Parliamentary systems of government where party cohesion is essential for the implementing of government policies that the party in power wishes to impose. Although party cohesion in American government has risen because of intraparty heterogeneity and the realignment of the South (Hetherington and Larson), the party discipline and unity is not nearly as cohesive as those found in Parliamentary systems. This is in large part due to the fact that the tools of the party leaders in each system are different.

In Parliamentary systems, because the risk of not voting in terms of party could lead to the collapse of the present regime and government system, party leaders tend to have more effective tools at their disposal to use in encouraging party cohesion/discipline. Party discipline or cohesion is the ability of a political party to get its members to support the policies of their party leadership. Party discipline is essential for all systems of government that allow parties to hold political power because it determines the degree to which the governmental organization will be affected by the political processes.

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Party discipline tends to be extremely strong in Parliamentary systems such as in European countries in which a vote by the legislature against their party is understood to cause the governmental “collapse” of the present regime (Huber). In these situations, it is extremely rare for a member to vote against the wishes of their party. Party leaders in such governments often have the authority to expel members of the party who violate the party line.

Weak party discipline is usually more frequent in congressional systems such as the United States Congress where power within in the party is more democratic than the authoritarian system seen in parliamentary governments, with leaders dictating order to the members to follow suit. In these American legislatures, it is routine for members to cross party lines on a given vote, typically following the interests of their region (constituents) or following other members of a borderline group within their party.

In America the risk is not that high, with party disagreement just results in the upsetting of the party elites without true damaging costs except for the withdrawal of their support. Party cohesion and party discipline are very distinctive under parliamentary government, where a lack of cohesion and/or indiscipline among parliamentarians belonging to government parties may jeopardize the very existence of the government. Certainly from the perspective of making and breaking governments, levels of party discipline are very high in European parliamentary democracies.

There are very few examples indeed of parties that have been “half-in, half-out” of government, in the sense that legislators from the same government party have voted in different ways on key legislative motions of confidence and/or investiture. In this sense parties do go into and come out of government in a unified manner. In the American democracy, this just isn’t the case. Politicians have more allegiance to their regions and constituents than to their party. Because of the way the nomination system works. Party nominations no longer rest in the hands of party elites but in those of the public.

Thus it’s better for one’s political career to appeal to the public and not to party. According to other scholars enhance this opinion by adding “the main influence of party discipline is not on the votes on specific roll calls but on the choice ideologically of the party” (McCarty, Poole and Rosenthal). This suggests that members will vote in line with their ideals rather than their leadership. To come to this conclusion they observed changing patterns of roll call voting among party-switchers and inferred that legislators appear o coordinate on roll calls because they change policy preferences to reflect those of their parties. Thus the question becomes, why do members of political parties even bother to behave in cohesive manners? Political scientists and elites have attributed this behavior to a trinity of solutions. Electoral incentives for legislators that arise from the value of a party label, strategic incentives within the legislature that reward legislators who behave in a coordinated fashion, and the ability of party leaders to implement a system of rewards and punishments are all attributed reasons (Hix and Simon).

Political scientists argue that electoral incentives might generate emergent party cohesion. By creating a type or brand that politicos can blanket themselves under in order for voters to infer information about candidates in elections. Recognized legislators join political parties to signal policy positions to voters, doing this so long as it increases their chances of election or re-election. Voters make inferences about candidates’ policy preferences only by observing their party membership.

Identifying candidates with their party and ignoring what candidates might actually say about their own policy preferences. Candidates in these models do have underlying policy preferences and thus prefer to join parties comprising like-minded colleagues (Krehbiel). This is because the party policy positions that are part of the brand with which each member is associated are influenced by the positions of all party members.

In this system it benefits a candidate to vote along party lines in order to be associated with a specific regime policies, outcomes, and therefore successes. Party membership involves costs that arise from this incentive. There are costs arising from associating with a party label indicating a unique policy position that differs from the ideal point of the member – and of being associated with a party that will actually implement this position if it is in a position to do so(Snyder and Ting).

Since the primary focus of this type of work is on the electoral phase of the political game, and despite occasional references to “party discipline”, this approach involves no explicit model of intraparty politics– except for the assumption that the party policy platform is chosen by either a dictatorial leader or simple majority voting by party members (Snyder and Ting). In addition, this incentive assumes that politicians are allowed to join, and to remain within, any party they choose. The only “filter” on party entry in such odels is party policy itself which, combined with the deadweight costs of party membership, discourages legislators with very divergent policy positions from joining the party (Snyder and Ting 2002: 95) This means that the underlying process being modeled is a type of sorting or the partitioning of voters between parties, but the logical engine of this model could also be applied to explain the sorting of politicians between parties on the assumptions that party positions are some function of the positions of party members and that politicians want to affiliate to the party with the closest position.

While this large body of work gives us useful intuitions about electoral incentives for legislators to affiliate to parties, the main lesson is that electoral incentives may well make a party label a valuable commodity. Thus, if a party’s decision-making regime can intensely threaten to withdraw the party label from party legislators if they fail to abide by party decisions about legislative behavior, then this will make those decisions easier to enforce.

On this perspective, party discipline is about legislators responding to explicit or implicit threats by party leaders to impose electoral costs by withdrawing the party label, by casting votes in otherwise costly compliance with party policy. The resources party leaders in both parliamentary and US federal government and parliamentary government context can deploy to structure the incentives of legislatures in a way that ensures party discipline include control over electorally valuable party labels (party identity) and control over sought-after perquisites in the legislature.

However, this incentive structure has an important new dimension under parliamentary government, arising from the fact that the legislature typically functions as a recruitment pool for the executive, and political ambition of its members are at the forefront. In Parliamentary governmental system, party leaders have the tools at their disposal to make or break candidates if they dissent, because the stakes are so high. If government parties cannot maintain firm party discipline, then they cannot retain a secure hold upon office.

When legislative parties do move into government, control over the allocation of important government jobs, whether these are cabinet or junior ministries or other key patronage appointments, typically rests in the hands of a very small number of senior party politicians, who can and do use these offices to reward loyal party members and who can and do punish mavericks by denying them the rewards of office. However, in American politics party leaders do not have the authority to simply dismiss a candidate.

They may only throw their endorsement or support candidates with funds and become “king makers”. It is unrealistic to think that Nancy Pelosi can tell a conservative democrat to go away. She can allow withhold resources (money and her name recognition support). But this won’t be enough if the candidates’ constituents carry him through to victory. Legislative incentives also coexist which derives from improved expectations in relation to a range of legislative payoffs that accrue to legislators who belong to larger rather than smaller cartels or coalitions of legislators.

A large part of the relevant literature has been concerned with the role of party in the US Congress, and how the main concern of those elected is to pass legislature and having a single legislative party commands a majority position. The main legislative resource is the ability to capture a majority coalition of legislators. This is achieved by controlling the allocation between legislators of agenda setting legislative offices, such as committee chairs.

On this argument, the power to make such allocations is delegated by party members to the party hierarchy, which can use this power to enhance party discipline, which in turn feeds back to enhance the value of the party label in the electoral game. This is important because the legislature is the main political arena in which legislators seek to fulfill their objectives, policy and otherwise. US parties impose discipline on their members by manipulating scarce agenda-control resources is in contrast an alternative influential argument, ( Krehbiel (1993, 1998).

This holds that what looks like legislative party discipline is an essentially emergent phenomenon. US legislators choose which party to affiliate to on the basis of their intrinsic policy preferences – in effect joining a party of like-minded individuals and then quite voluntarily behaving in the same way as these on the floor of the House without the need for any “externally” imposed party effect. Legislators are voting the same way because they like the same policies, or because they are responding to the same non-policy incentive structure put in place by the party hierarchy.

There are two roll calls put in place to ensure this outcome (Snyder and Groseclose). On one hand there are “lop sided” roll calls. In which first, legislators will treat these as a forgone conclusion and, second, that party leaders will see them as offering no rationale for the (by assumption costly) deployment of party discipline. On the other hand there are “close” roll calls, for which coordinated legislator behavior makes the difference between winning and losing. There is strong evidence suggesting that the “party effect” is much higher for close than for lop-sided roll calls.

They infer from this that US parties can and do influence the behavior of their legislative members when this makes a real difference, and do not attempt to do so when it does not. Cohesion seems to be closest when the party leadership has publicly identified as a priority, and find much more of a party effect on these than on issues that are not party priorities. Party cohesion in parliamentary government is important to the proper function of government because it essentially in lamest terms “makes or breaks government”.

Under the constitutional regime of parliamentary government, that is pervasive in Europe, almost certainly the most important role for the legislature arises from the fact that the executive gains and retains office as long as it maintains the confidence of the legislature. This requirement is constitutionally manifested in the parliamentary vote of confidence/no confidence in the government (Huber 1996; Lijphart 1992, 1999). The executive under parliamentary government, furthermore, the “cabinet” of ministers bound together under the constitutionally embedded rule of collective cabinet responsibility.

The stability and effectiveness of the government thus depends upon the ability of government parties to maintain disciplined behavior by party legislators. Effective party discipline means that a government is not defeated – either on votes of confidence/no confidence or on key pieces of legislation – because some legislators who belong to government parties vote against the government. Thus, while the vote of no confidence is the constitutional foundation of parliamentary government, the behavioral foundation can be seen as party discipline.

If the government parties maintain firm discipline on the part of their legislators, and if they control sufficient legislative support to take office in the first place, then they can maintain themselves in office, with firm control over the entire political process and facing few legislative impediments to the implementation of their policy and other objectives. Conversely, if government parties cannot maintain firm party discipline, then they cannot retain a secure hold upon office. The key point in all of his concerns the huge incentive in a parliamentary government system for senior party politicians – who themselves will often be members of the government – to maintain firm discipline over the members of their party. What is so striking about incentives for party cohesion and discipline under parliamentary government, as opposed to presidential government, is that these incentives cast the role of party leaders in a completely new light. “Party leaders” tend to play explicit and implicit roles. Party leaders tend to be seen as managers who essentially offer coordination and enforcement services to party members.

As agents of their party, such party leaders have incentives to shirk. Imposing party discipline, by whatever means, is thus the fulfillment of obligation The reason such models of party discipline can look bizarre and unrealistic in the context of parliamentary government is that an “agency/expensive-discipline” model of party leadership (Cox McCubbins) seems implausible in a constitutional environment where party leaders are senior politicians who are the key players in a series of interlocking at the essence of the political process.

Not only do party leaders make the really key decisions – about making and breaking governments, elections, but they also enjoy the benefits of office when this is achieved – whether these are perquisites such as the hefty check, the government jet, or the ministerial Mercedes, or opportunities to shift policy outputs in preferred directions as a result of controlling vetoes and agendas. In a nutshell, maintaining tight party discipline is highly incentive compatible for party leaders under parliamentary democracy.

Indeed it is difficult to think of reasons why party leaders in a parliamentary government system would not want to maintain tight party discipline. Except in the matter of a voting on a highly divisive, sensitive, and cross-cutting issue, such as gay marriage or stem cell research for which it is against party interests to be identified with a single unambiguous position – then a legislative “free vote” can be declared on the matter and legislators can be allowed to vote with their “consciences”. But the orderly ability to switch free votes on and off is an indicator of firm party control over the behavior of party legislators (Aldrich).

Parties are institutions in their own right. They are endogenous institutions, but parliamentary governmental parties are more deeply embedded into the constitutional rules of the political game of parliamentary government than a mere behavioral coalition of legislators. They are “political clubs” with their own set of rules to abide by. They are guided by their own system of rewards and punishment. In parliamentary government, membership of the party is completely dependent on the party label and the incentive of legislatives to be associated with the party brand or label. Cohesion and coordinated voting produce this benefit.

In which individual members have an incentive to take part in coordinated behavior if they can get away with doing so. As mentioned before, if members choose not to act in this fashion, they can be exiled from the party and thereby denied access to the party label. Acting in accordance to party can result in the placement of one’s name on the party ballot. Parties have the right to endorse particular candidates as official party candidates. Under the list-Proportional Representation electoral systems that are very common in parliamentary democracies, parties absolutely control access to and candidate placement on the party list.

Therefore, parties in parliamentary democracies directly control access to the party label on the ballot. If denied this, a putative candidate must be admitted to and endorsed by another party, or must form a new party, or must run as an independent. In addition, access to legislative perquisites, whether these are physical office accommodation, speaking time on the floor of the house (perhaps to impress constituents at the next election), or paid positions with access to considerable resources, such as committee chairs.

There are thus plenty of opportunities for party hierarchs to reward and punish individual legislative party members as they go about their daily lives. No doubt in the U. S. A. the movement towards the establishment of a disciplined and responsible party system is largely confined to the academic world. In the presidential system in US government rewards and punishment do indeed exist but not on the same level as in the parliamentary government (Cox and McCubbins). Party elites cannot simply cast away political hopefuls directly due to the constitution and the format of the political system.

Power is not solely in the hands of elites, but the major American parties, national and state, are not based on mass memberships. “Only here and there in the United States are attempts made to fix a large-scale party membership on a regular dues-paying basis and thus to correspond to the European parliamentary scale (Jackson Moselle). ” Party cohesion is absent even among the party workers and all the discipline that exists among party organizers before elections ceases to exist after elections. The problem stems from American attitudes about party.

Most Americans identify themselves with a particular party but do not feel that they are obliged thereby to work actively for that party’s nominees (Laver). Anyone can legally qualify himself as a party member just by going through some registration procedure. Unlike the parliamentary system where you must pledge party allegiance before even having one’s name considered on the ballot. No state demands work on behalf of a party’s candidates or contributions to its campaign funds as prerequisites for becoming a legal party member (Giannetti and Laver).

Structure of the American party has impact on party cohesion. The party structure in America consists of “a hierarchy of permanent party committees from precinct to national committee”. The National Committee which stands at the apex is made up of one man and one woman from each of the states picked by some kind of machinery within its State organization. The seemingly hierarchical structure does not produce party cohesion for power is decentralized and each unit is independent and needs not approval form the others.

For example, the Chairman of the County Committee does not depend for his post on the State Committee and the latter hardly depends for its tenure or powers on the National Committee. To add to decentralization of power is the absence of uniformity in structure. The most striking feature in the party organization in the U. S. A. is that it is regulated by State laws while in all other democracies party structure is determined by the party itself. Diversity in State laws regarding party organizations naturally does not give scope for political discipline for the parties in America.

In addition, primaries took the power of selection away from a band of leaders and activists and placed in by law in the hands of the voters. Unlike in Parliamentary systems where the local party organization selects the candidates, the national party organization is finally obeyed. V. O. Key express the view that “by the adoption of the direct primary the organization was stripped of its most important function, that of nomination”. Every political party has two divisions, the organizational and legislative, and party discipline is as essential in the latter as in the former.

If party cohesion is judged on the basis of the roll-call vote and the frequency with which members of a party differ among themselves, the index of cohesion in U. S. A. may be said to be very low. “The relatively low cohesion among Republican and among Democratic Congressmen” is mainly due to the non- parliamentary system of Government. The Congressman in U. S. A. need have no fear that division in the ranks of the party will lead to the dissolution of the legislature unlike in the Parliamentary system. So the significant feature with the roll-call vote in the American Congress is the absence of party cohesion.

Each of the two parties is divided into several factions and the factions in the two parties join or oppose one another irrespective of party labels, depending on the issue put for voting (Krehbiel). The decentralized structure of the parties makes a member depend for his success in elections more on his constituency than on his party. However, party cohesion in American government is not nonexistent, even though it is not as strong as those under the parliamentary democracies system. Each party selects a floor leader, whips and a Caucus Chairman creating a somewhat centralized structure that in practice increase party cohesion.

Commonly, the party groups cohere more tightly on some party dividing issues than on others. For example 4,658 members of the House in 11 selected modern sessions only 181 or less than 41 per cent voted with the opposing party more often than with their own. The proportion was slightly higher in the Senate. Out of 847 senators in 9 sessions, 63 percent secured their parties on a majority of the votes. (Jackson and Moselle)” For there is a tendency for most Republicans to be in voting opposition to most Democrats on controversial issues, showing strong party discipline.

Indeed, American party cohesion is on the up rise. Realignment of the South played a role as the South has consistently voted conservatively since the Nixon years (Hetherington and Larson). Another key piece is the ideological differences among the two major parties (Democrats and Republicans) are greater today than they have been in years pass. Scholars have noted that the more ideologically extreme, the higher the cohesion. As parties have more interparty heterogeneity, each party has developed more intraparty homogeneity, which has given rise to roll-call voting (Hetherington and Larson).

Strong party leaders also play a role in this phenomenon. Members in each party endow their respective party leaders with powers to advance the policy agenda. Ideological unity in the 1970s with House Democrats, cause them to place the Rules Committee under the control of party leaders. Thus giving the house Democratic Caucus more power to oust wayward committee chairs who stood in the progress of the party’s initiatives. Demonstrating, American parties have been adjusting to their weak party model, and adapting in a way to influence party cohesive as exhibited so strongly in the American government.

It is the clear consensus that Parliamentary government is indeed stronger in party discipline and cohesiveness than its American presidential system counterparts. The main reason for this phenomenon rests in the power of the political elites in each party system and the tools the system provides for their disposal-party label, patronage, etc.. In American politics, elites can only indirectly influence party-line voting as granted to the present political system. However, in parliamentary government, elites directly have the authority to dismiss or elevate the position of their members, thus encouraging party cohesion.

Bibliography Aldrich, John H. 1995. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Cox,Gary, and Mathew McCubbins 1993. Legislative Leviathan. Berkeley: University of California Press. Cox, Gary, and Mathew McCubbins. 2005. Setting the Agenda: Responsible Party Government in the US House of Representatives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming. Gallagher, Michael, Michael Laver and Peter Mair. 2005. Representative Government in Modern Giannetti, Daniela and Michael Laver. 2005. Policy positions and jobs in the government.

European Journal of Political Research. 44: 1-30. Hetherington and Larson. Parties, Politics, and Public Policy in America. 11th edition. 2009 Hix, Simon. 2001. Legislative behaviour and party competition in the European Parliament: an application of Nominate to the EU. Journal of Common Market Studies 39:4 (November 2001), 663-688 Huber, John. 1996. Rationalizing parliament: legislative institutions and party politics in France. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jackson, Matthew O. and Boaz Moselle. 2002. Coalition and Party Formation in a Legislative Voting Game Journal of Economic Theory, Vol. 103, No. 1, pp 49-87.

Kollman, Ken, John Miller and Scott Page. 1992. Adaptive parties in spatial elections. American Krehbiel, Keith. 1993. “Where’s the Party? ” British Journal of Political Science 23 (1): 235–6 Political Science Review. 86 (December) 929-937. Laver, Michael. 2005. Policy and the dynamics of political competition. American Political Science Review, forthcoming. Snyder, James M. , Jr. , and Tim Groseclose. 2001. “Estimating Party Influence on Roll Call Voting: Regression Coefficients versus Classification Success ” American Political Science Review. Vol. 95, No. 3, 689-698 V. O. Key: Politics, Parties and Pressure Groups. p. 12.

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