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Agenda Control and Timing of Bill Initiation: A Temporal Perspective on Coalition Governance in Parliamentary Democracies

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Although democratic governance imposes temporal constraints, the timing of government policy making activities such as bill initiation is still poorly understood. This holds especially under coalition governments, in which government bills need to find approval by a partner party in parliament. We propose a dynamic temporal perspective in which ministers do not know whether they face a cooperative or competitive partner at the beginning of a term, but they learn this over time and use their agenda control to time further bill initiation in response. A circular regression analysis using data on more than 25,000 government bills from 11 parliamentary democracies over 30 years supports this temporal perspective, showing that ministers initiate bills later in the term when their previous bills have experienced greater scrutiny. Ministers further delay bill initiation when coalition parties’ incentives to deviate from compromise increase and when they have less power to constrain their bills’ scrutiny.
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Agenda Control and Timing of Bill Initiation: A Temporal Perspective
on Coalition Governance in Parliamentary Democracies
THOMAS KÖNIG University of Mannheim, Germany
NICK LIN Academia Sinica, Taiwan
XIAO LU University of Mannheim, Germany
THIAGO N. SILVA University of Mannheim, Germany
NIKOLETA YORDANOVA University of Leiden, Netherlands
GALINA ZUDENKOVA TU Dortmund University, Germany
Although democratic governance imposes temporal constraints, the timing of government policy
making activities such as bill initiation is still poorly understood. This holds especially under
coalition governments, in which government bills need to find approval by a partner party in
parliament. We propose a dynamic temporal perspective in which ministers do not know whether they face
a cooperative or competitive partner at the beginning of a term, but they learn this over time and use their
agenda control to time further bill initiation in response. A circular regression analysis using data on more
than 25,000 government bills from 11 parliamentary democracies over 30 years supports this temporal
perspective, showing that ministers initiate bills later in the term when their previous bills have experienced
greater scrutiny. Ministers further delay bill initiation when coalition partiesincentives to deviate from
compromise increase and when they have less power to constrain their billsscrutiny.
INTRODUCTION
Government pro tempore is an essential charac-
teristic of democratic governance, which
establishes temporal limits on office holding
and policy making (Linz 1998). Yet, it is still poorly
understood whether and how governmentslimited
term in office affects the timing of their activities. At
the start of their term, office holders attempt to respond
to their constituencies in a policy-making environment
they are not familiar with yet. Over time, however, they
can update their beliefs and consider whether the
incentives of potential challengers (due to policy diver-
gence) require activity adaptation. Based on their own
abilities (due to power), office holders may then adapt
the timing of their further activities to optimize the
benefits and costs in a policy-making environment
where multiple parties pursue individual policy posi-
tions for electoral competition. While such adaptation
might follow more complex dynamicsdue to election
closeness, external events, parliamentary workload, or
other experienceswe provide a new account for the
temporal dimension of democratic governance that
considers the influence of learning on the timing of bill
initiation in parliamentary democracies.
Parliamentary democracies, usually ruled by mul-
tiple parties under a coalition government, face two
major challenges after government formation. In policy
making, a dilemma arises when coalition parties pursue
divergent policy positions for electoral purposes but
can only implement one government bill jointly (Laver
and Shepsle 1996; Martin and Vanberg 2005;2014;
2020b; Müller and Strøm 1999). In addition to this
dilemma, a temporal challenge exists for the passage
of government bills within a term that may limit the
implementation of the governmental policy agenda
when coalition policy divergence increases the risk of
gridlock (Bäck and Carroll 2018; Tsebelis 2002) with
obstruction and delay (Bell 2018; Döring 1995; Martin
2004). From a principal-agent perspective on coalition
government, the office-holding minister enjoys a first-
mover advantage for drafting government bills in her
portfolio, but strong parliamentary institutions allow
coalition partners to scrutinize and amend those bills,
which can lengthen the duration of the policy-making
process (Becher 2010; Carroll and Cox 2012; Martin
and Vanberg 2011).
Taking these two challenges together, we argue that
ministersfirst-mover advantage is constrained by the
type of their coalition partneracooperative type who
immediately approves their bills under a parliamentary
Thomas König , Professor, School of Social Sciences, University of
Mannheim, Germany, koenig@uni-mannheim.de.
Nick Lin , Assistant Research Fellow, Institute of Political Science,
Academia Sinica, Taiwan, nlin@gate.sinica.edu.tw.
Xiao Lu , Postdoctoral Researcher, Collaborative Research Cen-
ter SFB 884 Political Economy of Reforms,University of Mann-
heim, Germany, xiao.lu@gess.uni-mannheim.de.
Thiago N. Silva , Postdoctoral Researcher, Collaborative Research
Center SFB 884 Political Economy of Reforms,University of
Mannheim, Germany, tnsilva@uni-mannheim.de.
Nikoleta Yordanova , Associate Professor, Institute of Political
Science, University of Leiden, Netherlands, n.yordanova@fsw.leide-
nuniv.nl.
Galina Zudenkova , Professor, Department of Economics, TU
Dortmund University, Germany, galina.zudenkova@tu-dortmund.de.
Received: November 17, 2020; revised: April 12, 2021; accepted:
July 12, 2021.
1
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majority or a competitive type who pursues a vote-
maximizing motivation that opens the gate for more
scrutiny of those bills in parliament.
1
At the beginning
of the term, ministers may not know the type of their
coalition partner in their portfolio, butafter experi-
encing scrutiny or immediate approval of their bills in
parliamentthey can learn it and time the initiation of
their subsequent bills to prevent defeat, extensive
modification, or delay.
2
In other words, ministers can
learn from their experienced scrutiny and use their
agenda control to time the initiation of bills within their
portfolios over a term. If a minister encounters a
cooperative partner, she can implement bills more
speedily in her portfolio, which promises electoral
benefits by showing responsiveness to her constituency.
However, an encounter with a competitive partner
might result in late bill initiation, risking partial imple-
mentation of the ministers policy agenda and disap-
pointment among her constituency.
Our argument provides a theoretical foundation for
changes in policy agenda, where ministers seek pos-
ition-taking policy benefits by early initiation of gov-
ernment bills to demonstrate responsiveness to their
constituency (e.g., Huber 1996; Martin 2004; Martin
and Vanberg 2005;2011; Powell 2004), benefits that
late initiation can decrease. Building on existing
research on coalition government, we acknowledge
that the coalition partner can theoretically constrain
ministerial policy making, but our study moves this
literature forward, highlighting the consequences of
the use of institutional control mechanisms of coalition
partners (such as parliamentary scrutiny) and the learn-
ing process of ministers in response to experienced
scrutiny. We theorize that, over the term, ministers
update their beliefs about the partners type based on
their experiences with parliamentary scrutiny
(or immediate approval) of their bills in parliament.
We derive novel predictions that (1) ministers initiate
their bills later in the term the greater the scrutiny they
have experienced and that (2) this effect of experienced
scrutiny on the timing of bill initiation is stronger the
greater the divergence of policy positions between
coalition parties and (3) the fewer the powers ministers
have to constrain scrutiny activities in parliament.
Our dynamic temporal perspective on democratic
governance also complements the more general litera-
ture on legislative obstruction (Bell 2018; Fong and
Krehbiel 2018; Patty 2015),
3
which is considered a
prominent phenomenon in parliamentary democracies
(Bücker 1989; Cox and McCubbins 2011; Döring 1995)
and bicameral systems (Tsebelis and Money 1997). Our
dynamic temporal perspective allows for ministers
learning from past policy-making experiences and
adapting their behavior in order to reduce the amount
of scrutiny and improve the governmental record.
Compared with existing static theories, this dynamic
temporal perspective improves our understanding of
the relative temporal effects of democratic governance.
In particular for intermediate and sufficiently low levels
of responsiveness, our predictions differ from a one-
period perspective without learning. The static and the
dynamic perspectives predict early initiation in her
portfolio only when the office holder can expect high
position-taking benefits for her party.
Instead of providing a more complex theory, we
account for such effects empirically. Methodologically,
the analysis of periodical and portfolio-specific timing
of government bills requires consideration of the tem-
poral structure of the data on legislative cycles in
parliamentary democracies. By treating terms as new
cycles of policy-making activities, in which ministers
can learn about their partner type from experienced
scrutiny of their government bills, we account for the
cyclical structure of the data using a circular regression
analysis (Gill and Hangartner 2010) and devise corres-
ponding visualization tools to investigate the timing of
bill initiation.
4
As our explanandum is defined by the
relative temporal location of bill initiation within a
term, we investigate the agenda control of ministers
over the immediate or late initiation of government
bills.
THE TEMPORAL DIMENSION OF COALITION
POLICY MAKING IN PARLIAMENTARY
DEMOCRACIES
Democratic governance imposes temporal limits on
policy making. It limits the duration of office holding
and terminates the duration of policy-making pro-
cesses with the dissolution of parliament, the end of
parliamentary sessions, or the conclusion of legislative
terms (Döring 1995;2001). For policy making in coali-
tion governments, this temporal dimension may also
enhance coalition tensions and restrict policy agenda
changes. According to Martin and Vanberg (2011),
for example, early bill initiation gives ministers an
opportunity to demonstrate responsiveness to their
constituency that they are working hard on their
behalf.
5
When elections approach, Strobl et al. (2021)
show that coalition governments are less likely to
1
According to Downs (1957, 159), vote maximizing is the basic
motive underlying the behavior of parties.
2
Even if ministers have good reasons to trust their peers at the
beginning of the term (after the bargaining process during govern-
ment formation), due to commitment problems coalition parties are
unable to ensure credible promises about future policies (Bäck and
Lindvall 2015; Klüver and Spoon 2020; Zubek and Klüver 2013).
3
Compared with the limited obstruction model of Fong and Krehbiel
(2018) in which when proposing her bills the agenda setter decides on
the policy agenda constrained by time, we posit that ministers learn
over time the type of partner, who may also bear costs of challenging
bills.
4
In Appendix I: Theory, Data, and Method, we provide information
on the advantages of using circular regression analysis compared with
linear estimators (among other estimators), and we emphasize the
methodological contribution of our paper for future research that
adopts a temporal perspective on policy-making processes.
5
As recent research finds, the strongest predictors of votersattri-
bution of policy-making influence to coalition parties are the parties
ministerial roles and their parliamentary seat shares (Fortunato et al.
2021).
Thomas König et al.
2
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implement (austerity) policies that risk alienating
voters (see also, König and Wenzelburger 2017).
More generally, Martin (2004) found that coalition
governments usually pursue an accommodating policy
agenda, in which government bills with little policy
divergence of coalition parties have priority, while
others are postponed. Conversely, Sagarzazu and Klü-
ver (2017) showed that at the beginning and at the end
of the term the strategy of differentiation between
coalition partners predominates, while coalition com-
promise is more likely in the middle of the term. As
coalition participation influences votersperceptions of
partisan policy positions (Fortunato, Silva, and Wil-
liams 2018; Fortunato and Stevenson 2013), coalition
members have incentives to differentiate themselves
from their coalition partners to improve their electoral
chances (Fortunato 2019).
These incentives can generate principal-agent prob-
lems in government policy making between ministers
and their coalition partners, especially when the policy
divergence of coalition parties increases (Martin and
Vanberg 2005; Müller and Strøm 1999; Strøm and
Müller 2000; Strøm, Müller, and Bergman 2003). These
problems continue to exist despite attempts to alleviate
them via screening of coalition partners (Kiewiet and
McCubbins 1991; Saalfeld 2000; Strøm 1995;2000),
ministerial portfolio allocation (Bäck, Debus, and
Dumont 2011; Bassi 2013;2017; Laver and Schofield
1990; Laver and Shepsle 1996; Martin and Stevenson
2001), and formal agreements on coalition compromise
(Bäck, Müller, and Nyblade 2017; Bowler et al. 2016;
Indridason and Kristinsson 2013; Klüver and Bäck
2019; Moury 2013; Müller and Strøm 1999;2008; Strøm
and Müller 2000; Timmermans 2017).
According to this literature, higher coalition policy
divergence increases the incentives of ministerswho
have the task and expertise to draft government bills
within their portfoliosto drift from previously agreed
upon coalition compromise by proposing hostile
bills, while it motivates the coalition partner to coalition
policing by scrutinizing and amending such proposals in
parliament to avoid policy losses (Becher 2010; Huber
1996; Laver and Schofield 1990; Laver and Shepsle
1996; Martin 2011; Martin and Vanberg 2005;2020a;
Tavits 2008). This, however, risks inaction and delay,
with high electoral costs for the responsible parties
when the costs for coalition policing exceed the benefits
of jointly implementing government bills (Duch and
Stevenson 2008; Fortunato et al. 2021).
This dilemma of coalition governance has sparked
prolific research on the conditions under which minis-
ters propose hostilebills and coalition partners
(successfully) scrutinize such bills. From a spatial per-
spective on policy divergence, Laver and Shepsles
(1996) prominent model of portfolio allocation sug-
gests that ministers can autonomously implement their
policy position within their portfolios when their party
holds the median position in parliament. Under a
constrained environment, Martin and Vanbergs
(2011) model of coalition bargains also predicts that
ministers initiate hostile proposalsgovernment bills
representing the policy position of their party instead of
the previously agreed upon coalition compromisefor
seeking electoral position-taking benefits.
Studies contend that in parliamentary democracies
with strong institutions, coalition parties can overcome
their dilemma and implement coalition compromise by
allowing coalition partners to scrutinize and amend
government bills in parliament, even if ministers pursue
a maximal position-taking strategy by always introdu-
cing hostile proposals (Becher 2010; Goodhart 2013;
Martin and Vanberg 2005;2014;2020a).
6
Yet, scrutin-
izing government bills in parliament delays government
policy making and raises challenging costs for coalition
parties (Martin and Vanberg 2011).
7
Also, while min-
isters can only implement a maximal position-taking
strategy when the challenging costs of (weak) institu-
tions for scrutiny exceed the policy benefits of the
coalition partner, higher ministerial costs of being scru-
tinized and amended risk delay and gridlock, with
crucial electoral costs for both the partner and the
office-holding ministerial party (Bäck and Carroll
2018; Martin 2004; Tsebelis 2002).
Parliamentary institutions thus offer an imperfect
mechanism for coalition partners to control ministerial
discretion (Goodhart 2013). Empirically, it is difficult
(if not impossible) to provide evidence for the level of
imperfection as the coalition partner or opposition
parties can also use parliamentary institutions to scru-
tinize and amend government bills (Fortunato 2019).
Yet, the conventional wisdom and empirical evidence
of government policy making are that the amount of
parliamentary scrutiny increases with the level of policy
divergence within coalition governments (Martin and
Vanberg 2014;2020a; Pedrazzani and Zucchini 2013).
Furthermore, if a minister could anticipate how much
scrutiny her bills will undergo in parliament, she could
use her agenda control over the timing of bills to
postpone bill initiation when she expects costly scru-
tiny, or otherwise, to initiate her bills immediately.
6
Coalition partners can also make use of alternative institutional
instruments such as the appointment of junior ministers (Thies 2001),
drawing of coalition agreements and policy guidelines (Indridason
and Kristinsson 2013; Klüver and Bäck 2019; Moury 2010; Müller and
Strøm 2003;2008), and the selection of parliamentary committee
chairs (Carroll and Cox 2012; Lipsmeyer and Pierce 2011), which
reduce the challenging costs of coalition parties (Martin and Vanberg
2005;2020a; Strøm, Müller, and Bergman 2008; Strøm, Müller, and
Smith 2010). Furthermore, prime ministers can use the vote of
confidence (Huber 1996), appoint ministers that would minimize
the policy distance within the coalition (Bäck, Debus, and Müller
2016), and reshuffle ministerial portfolios (Indridason and Kam
2008) to keep hostile coalition members in line.
7
The partner has to convene parliamentary hearings, invite experts,
and eventually mobilize opposition parties to reduce informational
deficits and to amend hostile proposals and implement compromise.
When coalition parties pursue different policy positions, challenging
government bills may still have positive implications for the partner
that offset the challenging costs by correcting for ministerial drift and
negative ones for the ministerial office holder. Apart from the
negative reputation ministers can get for having drafted a hostile
government bill at the expense of coalition compromise, a lengthy
monitoring procedure reduces the likelihood that ministers can
implement their preferred policy agenda on time, thus reducing the
policy gains of the ministers party.
Agenda Control and Timing of Bill Initiation
3
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Although ministers may not know perfectly the type of
their partners at the beginning of the term, we can
expect adjustments in ministerial policy-making activ-
ities over time as ministers get to know better their
partners.
THEORY: MINISTERIAL LEARNING AND
TIMING OF BILL INITIATION
To complement the predominant static perspective on
coalition policy making, we introduce a parsimonious
dynamic theory of government bill initiation timing.
8
Even though coalition policy making is a complex
procedure, we simplify our argument to the introduc-
tion of only two pieces of bills to provide an intuitive
and tractable setting for modeling ministerial learning
and the timing of bill initiation. For simplicity, we
distinguish between a ministerial office holder and a
partner within a majority coalition government.
9
The minister is responsible for drafting two bills in
her portfolio over a term.
10
She introduces the first bill
at the beginning of the term and then decides when
early or late in the termto introduce the second bill.
11
When the government and parliamentary majorities
coincide, the coalition partner plays the role of a par-
liamentary scrutiny gatekeeper,who has the choice
of approving immediately or allowing for scrutiny of
the bills in parliament.
Because time is a scarce resource for government
policy making within a term, scrutiny can impede the
policy-making process and constrain the governments
ability to approve its policy agenda (Cox and McCub-
bins 2007;2011; Döring 1995; Fong and Krehbiel
2018).
12
We assume that the coalition partner can be
of two types: He can be either a competitive type, who
mainly cares about his performance in the next election
and has vote-maximizing motivations, or a cooperative
type, who is predominantly concerned about the effect-
iveness of coalition policy making. In other words, the
type reflects whether, in addition to policy concerns,
the partner has particular individual electoral concerns
for the next election.
To understand this concept, it is important to distin-
guish between the party as a single political actor and
affiliated members as current agents of the party. While
long-run ideological policy preferences of the party are
likely to persist over time, the short-run vote-maximiz-
ing motivations of partisan agents might vary across
portfolios and from one term to another. That is why
even though we model parties as single actors, the
underlying assumption is that the partners type reflects
motivations of the current ministers as party agents and
is therefore randomly drawn by nature.
13
The legislative process develops as follows, whereby
stages 1 and 2 reflect the static and stages 3 and 4 add
the dynamic perspective:
1. The partners type (competitive or cooperative)is
randomly determined by nature. To capture the
information asymmetry of the coalition parties, we
assume that the partner knows his own type,
whereas the minister has the prior knowledge that
the partner is competitive with probability q.
2. The minister introduces her first bill, which the
partner either immediately approves or allows for
scrutiny. If the partner approves, then the bill passes
with the support of the parliamentary majority and
the bill implements the policy position of the minis-
terial party.
14
If the partner does not approve the bill
immediately, then the bill undergoes a monitoring
process and is passed with amendments at the
expense of the policy position of the ministerial
party (and more in the interests of the partners
party).
3. The minister observes whether her first bill has been
immediately approved or scrutinized and updates
her beliefs about the partners type. She decides
then whether to initiate the second bill early or late
in the term. Figure 1 depicts the partieschoices and
outcomes for the second ministerial bill (the com-
plete game tree is presented in Figure B1 of Appen-
dix I: Theory, Data, and Method).
4. Once the second bill is introduced, the partner either
immediately approves or allows for scrutiny. If the
partner approves, then the bill passes with the sup-
port of the parliamentary majority and implements
8
To illustrate our theory, we include anecdotal evidence in Appendix
A of the supplementary material.
9
We refer to the minister as sheand to the partner as he.
10
Note that in our setting, the minister controls the policy agenda and
so has a monopoly to initiate bills. If we assume instead that coalition
parties compete over the agenda and simultaneously introduce bills,
then logrolling incentives might arise, leading to trading of favors
such that the partner approves ministerial bills in exchange for the
ministers approval of her bills (Aksoy 2012; Carrubba and Volden
2000; Hortala-Vallve 2011; Stratmann 1997). In this case, the antici-
pation of trading of favors might provide the minister with different
incentives and motivate her to time bill initiation accordingly. This
topicwhile definitely relevantis beyond the scope of this paper and
left for future research.
11
In Appendix C, we extend our setting to allow for timing of not
only the second bill but also of the first bill initiation. According to
our findings presented in Appendix C, the timing of the first bill
initiation (early or late in the term) has no influence on ministerial
learning and timing of the second bill initiation.
12
According to Fong and Krehbiels(2018) model on limited
obstruction, the obstructer decides whether to let the bill pass quickly
in one unit of time or to delay it via dilatory tactics so that passage of
the setters bill takes two units of time.
13
Even though ministers would like to infer the partnerstypes
during the process of coalition formation, the competitive partner
type has no incentive to reveal his vote-maximizing motivations
during this stagerisking the success of coalition formationand
so will pretend to be perceived as a cooperative type. The minister
realizes this and so understands that even though the partner seems
to be a cooperative type during the coalition formation process, he
can be a competitive type when it comes to policy making afterwards.
This implies that the minister cannot fully learn the partners type at
the time of coalition formation.
14
Following the literature on party discipline in parliamentary dem-
ocracies (Bowler, Farrell, and Katz 1999; Depauw and Martin 2009;
Diermeier and Feddersen 1998; Kam 2009;2014), we assume that
coalition parties control their members and so can pass bills whenever
the minister and the partner have agreed on it.
Thomas König et al.
4
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the policy position of the ministerial party. If the
partner does not approve the bill immediately, then
the outcome depends on whether the minister has
initiated the second bill early or late in the term. An
early-initiated scrutinized bill is passed with amend-
ments at the expense of the policy position of the
ministerial party (and in the interests of the partners
party). Scrutiny of a late-initiated bill cannot be
due to time constraintscompleted by the end of
the term to advance the policy position of the part-
ners party but rather results in the passage of a
compromise bill.
15
We next formalize the payoffs of the coalition parties
that account for their dilemma. Following the (spatial)
literature on policy divergence of coalition partners, the
parties have different policy positions that create prin-
cipal-agent problems, as they can only implement gov-
ernment bills jointly. If a government bill passes
without scrutiny, then the policy payoffs change from
coalition compromise 0 toward þXfor the minister
and Xfor the partner, where X > 0.
16
However, if an
early-initiated bill gets scrutinized and subsequently
amended to reflect the partners policy position, then the
policy payoff to the minister is X
αand the policy payoff
to the partner is X
α,whereα1 denotes the ministers
power to constrain scrutiny activities (e.g., by holding
the median position, having a large seat share in
parliament, etc.). In turn, the policy payoffs to both
coalition parties from implementing the coalition com-
promise are normalized to 0.
17
Therefore, if a bill is
initiated late, subsequently scrutinized, and then amended
to reflect the coalition compromise, then the parties
policy payoffs amount to 0.
According to Martin and Vanberg (2011), early bill
initiation allows the minister to demonstrate respon-
siveness to her constituency, that she is working hard on
their behalf; thus, she generates position-taking bene-
fits B> 0 for herself. Late initiation, in turn, is associ-
ated with temporary inaction and so generates no
position-taking benefits.
18
As for the partner, the pro-
cess of scrutinizing government bills imposes challen-
ging costs. However, the competitive partner derives
individual electoral benefits from scrutinized bills. We
assume that these benefits compensate him for the
challenging costs. In other words, for the competitive
partner, the costs are offset by the individual electoral
benefits he receives as a result of scrutinized bills.
The cooperative partner type does not have vote-
maximizing motivations but incurs the challenging costs
FIGURE 1. Second Bill: PartiesChoices and Outcomes
Minister
Early initiation
Late initiation
Partner
Bill is
passed
Approval
Bill is
amended
to advance
partner’s
policy p osition
and passed
Scrutiny
Partner
Bill is
passed
Approval
Bill is
amended
to reflect
coalition
compromise
and passed
Scrutiny
15
We do not model the maintenance of the status quo (i.e., passing no
bills), as we assume that a ministerial proposal is a Pareto improve-
ment over the status quo. It follows that both coalition parties have no
incentives to keep the status quo policy and so we can rule this option
out. However, our key results also hold for a setting in which the
partner prefers the status quo policy to a ministerial proposal and
late-initiated scrutinized bills remain pending at the end of the term.
This model setting is available upon request.
16
This corresponds to the concept of a hostile bill, which is conven-
tionally used in the empirical analyses of policy making of coalition
governments (Martin and Vanberg 2005;2011;2014;2020a). Intui-
tively, the partiescommitment to a previously-agreed coalition
compromise is not enforceable and so the minister prefers to use
her policy agenda control to promote her own policy position.
17
In other words, we assume a one-dimensional policy space and so
can model partiespreferred policies as situated equidistantly around
a compromise policy 0. Each party prefers policies that are closer to
its most preferred policy over those that are further away.
18
One can interpret these position-taking benefits as electoral pay-
offs the minister anticipates from her constituency as a reward for her
responsiveness.
Agenda Control and Timing of Bill Initiation
5
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of scrutinized bills, which we denote by C. To highlight
the incentive divergence between the two types, we posit
that challenging costs Care large enough that they
exceed the partners policy benefit XþX
αfrom the
passage of the amended bill that advances his policy
position instead of the initial bill.
To find a solution for our dynamic perspective on bill
initiation timing, we search for a perfect Bayesian
equilibrium that consists of the partners reactions to
the first and second bills, the ministers beliefs about the
partners type, and the ministers subsequent decision
about early or late initiation of the second bill. Specif-
ically, the partners decisions to approve the bill imme-
diately or allow it for scrutiny are optimal given his
type, incentives, and expectations about early or late
initiation of the second bill. In turn, the minister uses
the partners reaction to her first bill to draw inferences
about the partners(competitive or cooperative) type.
Given these inferences and her incentives, the minister
optimally decides whether to initiate the second bill
early or late.
In Appendix B, we present the formal analysis and
prove that there exists a perfect Bayesian equilibrium
such that the competitive partner type allows for scru-
tiny of both bills, but the cooperative partner type
approves both bills immediately. The minister learns
that she faces a competitive (cooperative) partner after
her first bill has been scrutinized (immediately
approved). For B>X
α, the minister initiates the second
bill early in the term. Intuitively, when the ministers
policy loss X
αis relatively low compared with her pos-
ition-taking benefit B, then she has incentives for early
initiation even if she learns that her partner is a com-
petitive type who will allow for scrutiny of the second
bill. However, for BX
α, the minister opts for late
initiation after her first bill has been scrutinized and
for early initiation after her first bill has been immedi-
ately approved. In this case, the ministers position-
taking benefit Bdoes not outweigh the policy loss X
α.As
a result, the minister prefers to hinder the scrutiny
process by late bill initiation after she learns that her
partner is a competitive type who would allow for
scrutiny again. It follows that the equilibrium probabil-
ity of late initiation amounts to
0if B>X
α,
qif BX
α:
8
>
<
>
:
That is, for B>X
α, the second bill is initiated early,
whereas for BX
α, it is initiated late when the partner
is a competitive type (recall that the partner is competi-
tive with probability q).
19
Empirical Implications
Our theory suggests that the minister learns about her
policy-making environment after observing whether
her past bills have been scrutinized or immediately
approved by her partner.
20
Compared with the one-
period static view, our dynamic perspective makes
different predictions for intermediate and sufficiently
low levels of position-taking benefits. Only when the
office holder can expect high position-taking benefits
for her party, the static and the dynamic models predict
early initiation. Specifically, greater experienced scru-
tiny reveals to the minister that she faces a competitive
partner and that she will be constrained in her attempt
to respond to her constituency, giving her incentives for
late initiation of government bills. Immediate approval
of bills, in turn, indicates to the minister that her partner
is a cooperative type, and she has incentives to generate
position-taking benefits from early bill initiation. This
implies the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 1.The more scrutiny the ministers bills have
experienced, the later in the term she initiates subsequent
bills.
Moreover, our theoretical analysis reveals that the
relationship between experienced scrutiny and partner
type is affected by the policy payoff X, the size of which
depends on the policy divergence of coalition parties.
As the policy divergence increases, the policy payoff X
also increases. Intuitively, the more divergent the pol-
icy positions, the more policy losses the minister incurs
from a type that scrutinizes and amends her bills in
parliament. Therefore, after having learned that she
faces a competitive partner, she has more incentives for
late initiation of bills to hinder further scrutiny. This
leads to our second hypothesis:
Hypothesis 2.The higher the policy divergence between
the coalition parties, the stronger the positive effect of
experienced scrutiny on late initiation of bills.
Furthermore, the relationship between experi-
enced scrutiny and timing of bill initiation is affected
by the ministerspowerαto constrain scrutiny activ-
ities. The more powerful the minister, the less likely
parliamentary scrutiny and amendment of her bills
are. Consequently, the minister incurs fewer policy
losses, reducing her incentives to hinder further
scrutiny by late initiation. This implies our third
hypothesis:
19
In Appendix D, we consider a model extension in which the
minister not only decides on the timing of the second bill but also
can adjust the bill content in favor of the partners policy interests at
the expense of her own policy agenda. We find that after scrutiny of
the first bill, the minister still prefers to initiate the second bill late for
sufficiently low Beven though she has an option to adjust the bill
content and initiate it early in the term. This implies that our
predictions about the relationship between experienced scrutiny and
late initiation of government bills hold even when the minister can
adjust the content of her bills.
20
For instance, in the scrutiny process the partner can question the
ministerial office holder, introduce amendments to the ministerial
proposal, and make speeches to justify his own policy position. All
these behaviors help the partner signal to his voters that the party is
fighting the good fight (Martin and Vanberg 2008;2011) and allow
the minister to learn about the type of partner.
Thomas König et al.
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Hypothesis 3.The more powerful the minister is, the
weaker the positive effect of experienced scrutiny on late
initiation of bills.
Our hypotheses are consistent with intuitions about
the dynamics of coalition policy making in light of the
trade-offs that the minister and her partner face. Hav-
ing experienced immediate approval, the minister
infers a cooperative partner type. She, thus, anticipates
further immediate approval and so initiates subsequent
bills early within the term. In turn, when she believes
that she faces a competitive partner type who has vote-
maximizing motivations at her expense, experienced
scrutiny reveals a less supportive policy-making envir-
onment. Under the expectation of further scrutiny of
her bills and subsequent policy losses from passing
amended bills, the minister might opt for late initiation
of subsequent bills. However, the more powerful the
minister, the more she can counteract further scrutiny
in parliament and so the lower her incentives for late
initiation of bills after having experienced scrutiny.
EMPIRICAL STRATEGY
Sample Selection and Unit of Analysis
To examine our hypotheses, we have collected data from
11 European parliamentary democracies, covering all
government bills from coalition governments available
in the following countriesonline parliamentary databases
during the period 19812014: Belgium (19882010),
Czech Republic (19932013), Denmark (19852011),
Estonia (20072011), Finland (19892010), Germany
(19812012), Hungary (19982014), Latvia (20022011),
the Netherlands (19982012), Norway (19892013), and
Poland (19972011). This is the most comprehensive
cross-national data set on government bills assembled
to date, covering a variety of parliamentary democracies,
which differ in size, wealth, culture, history, and demo-
cratic foundation but are governed by coalition parties.
Our unit of analysis is an individual proposal of a
government billintroduced into the lower house of
parliaments. We have 25,477 such observations in total. For
each bill, we use legal documents to identify which ministry
has proposed it and, based on this, its policy area.
21
Variables and Measurement
Dependent variable
Our dependent variable captures the relative temporal
location of bill initiation within a term.
22
To make the
measurement of bill initiation comparable across coalition
governments with different duration, we divide the num-
ber of days from the start date of government to the date
of bill initiation by the number of days of the overall
observed government duration. For example, if a govern-
ment started on January 1, 2010, and ended on December
31, 2013, lasting for a total government duration of four
years or 1,460 days, a government bill initiated on January
1, 2011, (365 days after the government formation) is
located at the 25th percentile (365/1,460) of the term.
The resulting measure ranges from 0th percentile to
100th percentile, where the first days of government fall
in the 0th percentile and the last days of government fall in
the 100th percentile of the term.
To map percentiles into cycles of terms, we transform
the percentage rate into a radius measure using the
formula r=2π, which maps from [0%,100%] to [0, 2π]
on a circle. Therefore, our dependent variable can
theoretically range from 0 to 2π.As presented in
Table 1, our dependent variable bill temporal location
empiricallyvariesfrom0.13to6.28inourdata,with
small values indicating earlyinitiationsandhighval-
ues indicating late initiations.
23
In substantive terms,
the minimum value of 0.13 represents the first and
earliest government bill, the maximum value of 6.28
(2π) the last bill initiated within the longest term in
our dataset.
Figure 2 depicts the relative timing and number of
government bills from the 11 parliamentary democra-
cies to illustrate our circular outcomes in terms of
timing of bill initiation. In this descriptive plot, we
distinguish between four periods of a term: the first,
second, third, and fourth periods. The circular plots
show that the number of government bills differs across
countries and across different periods of the terms.
Countries such as Denmark, Finland, and Latvia have
a larger number of government bills initiated than the
other countries included in our data. In countries such
as Denmark, Germany, Latvia, and the Netherlands,
most government bills are initiated in the third period
of the term, while in countries such as Belgium, Fin-
land, and Norway, most government bills are intro-
duced at the end of the term. Furthermore, the Czech
Republic, Estonia, and Poland experience fewer gov-
ernment bills, most of which are equally distributed in
the second and third periods of the term. The descrip-
tive statistics suggest that we cover a variety of tem-
poral decisions on government bill initiation of
coalition governments.
Independent variables
Our first hypothesis postulates that greater experi-
enced scrutiny of previous bills leads to late initiation
of subsequent bills within the term. To measure experi-
enced scrutiny of government bills, building on Martin
21
Following Bäck, Debus, and Dumonts(2011) categorization of
ministerial portfolios, we classify all bills into 13 policy areas: agri-
culture, defense, economy, education, environment, finance, foreign,
health, industry, interior, justice, labor, and social affairs. When there
are multiple ministries in charge of the same bill, we identify the
policy area of the bill based on the first ministry in the list.
22
Overall, about 81% of the government bills were approved,
which underlines the government policy-making dominance in
parliamentary democracies (for country-specific passage rates, see
Appendix E).
23
Descriptive statistics of our variables for each of the countries
included in our analyses can be seen in Appendix E.
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and Vanberg (2004) we consider the duration (in days)
that a bill takes to be enacted from the date of bill
introduction. Bills that are scrutinized tend to require
more time in the parliamentary policy-making process
than bills that are not subject to scrutiny. Given the
circular nature of our data structure, our measurement
is calculated as follows: for bill iinitiated at time Tin
term Ain policy area K,durationi=mean(duration of
passed bills initiated in term A, concluded before T, in
area K). In other words, for any observation experi-
enced scrutiny is based on the average duration of past
bills in that policy area adopted up until the date of the
TABLE 1. Variables and Descriptive Statistics
Mean SD Min Max N
Bill temporal location 3.46 1.57 0.13 6.28 25,477
Experienced scrutiny 96.95 70.49 1.00 488.33 25,477
Coalition policy divergence 2.58 2.11 0.02 17.93 25,477
Policy saliency 0.85 0.97 0.01 2.49 25,477
Ministers party size 0.25 0.13 0.01 0.59 25,477
Minister median party 0.26 0.44 0.00 1.00 25,477
Opposition policy divergence 0.18 0.16 0.00 1.08 25,477
Government duration 1,043.14 413.81 68.00 1,623 25,477
FIGURE 2. Relative Timing and Number of Government Bills within Terms
Government start
1/4
1/2 term
3/4
Government start
1/4
1/2 term
3/4
Government start
1/4
1/2 term
3/4
Government start
1/4
1/2 term
3/4
Government start
1/4
1/2 term
3/4
Government start
1/4
1/2 term
3/4
Government start
1/4
1/2 term
3/4
Government start
1/4
1/2 term
3/4
Government start
1/4
1/2 term
3/4
Government start
1/4
1/2 term
3/4
Government start
1/4
1/2 term
3/4
Netherlands Norway Poland
Finland Germany Hungary Latvia
Belgium Czech Republic Denmark Estonia
0
400
800
1200
1600
0
400
800
1200
1600
0
400
800
1200
1600
Number of Government Bills
Thomas König et al.
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new bill. In our dataset, experienced scrutiny ranges
from 1 to 488,
24
with a mean of 97 days and a standard
deviation of 70 days.
25
According to our second hypothesis, we expect the
effect of experienced scrutiny on late bill initiation to be
stronger under higher policy divergence among coali-
tion parties. Measuring policy divergence of coalition
parties requires knowledge of the policy positions of
the ministerial party in charge of the government bill
and the partner parties in the coalition. To measure
these area-specific policy positions, we rely on the
Comparative Manifesto Project (CMP) data that cover
parliamentary parties since 1945 (Volkens et al. 2019).
The CMP splits raw data of party manifestos into quasi-
sentences categorized into 56 categories that are used
to construct party positions in those categories. Thus,
given the availability of manifestos, the CMP data
provides term-varying measures of partisan policy posi-
tions that parties report themselves.
Because not all categories are informative and dis-
tinct, Lowe et al. (2011) developed a scaling method
based on log odds ratios of quantities of quasi-sen-
tences. The scaled policy positions are shown to be
superior to the raw measures of the Comparative
Manifesto Project. We adopt this scaling approach
and recalculate partisan policy positions in 13 minister-
ial portfolios as in Bäck, Debus, and Dumont (2011).
For each term and each ministerial portfolio, the policy
divergence of coalition parties is measured as the sum
of portfolio-specific differences between the ministerial
party and its coalition partners.
26
The greater the policy
distance between the minister-proponent and her part-
ners, the higher the policy divergence among coalition
parties. In our data, the variable coalition policy diver-
gence ranges from a minimum value of 0.02 (almost no
divergence) to a maximum divergence of 17.93.
To examine our third hypothesis, according to which
we expect a weaker effect of experienced scrutiny on
late bill initiation in the face of powerful ministers, we
include two new variables: whether the ministers party
holds the median policy position in parliament and the
relative size of the ministers party in parliament. From
the other partiespoint of view, these variables approxi-
mate the constraints on their capability to scrutinize
and amend ministerial bills. According to spatial
models, government policy making is highly influenced
by the position of the median party in parliament, as
long as the median party approximates the median
voters position (Baron 1991; Laver and Schofield
1990; Morelli 1999). In this sense, a minister holding
the median position in parliament should have a
greater ability to avoid amendments and bring the
government bill closer to her ideal policy position
compared with an off-median partner (Laver and
Shepsle 1996). To capture whether ministers take the
median position in parliament, we consider the ordered
area-specific positions of coalition parties and code
minister median party as 1 if the minister takes the
area-specific median position in parliament.
When compared with smaller parties, larger parties
in parliamentary systems are usually in a privileged
position to scrutinize bills and have a greater floor time
for speeches in parliament (Martin and Vanberg 2008).
In several parliamentary democracies, a larger seat
share translates into control of more legislative com-
mittee chairs, which leads to powers to schedule public
hearings and to consult policy experts and societal
groups, as well as a privileged position in terms of
extracting policy information (Kim and Loewenberg
2005; Martin and Vanberg 2004;2005; Mattson and
Strøm 1995). As a consequence, larger ministerial par-
ties should be more able to avoid scrutiny and amend-
ments to their bills. We measure the relative size of the
ministers party by her partys seat share in parliament.
Control variables
Coalition parties may attach different saliency across
policy areas that can facilitate coalition formation,
portfolio allocation, and common policy making
(Bäck, Debus, and Dumont 2011; Klüver and Spoon
2020; Klüver and Sagarzazu 2016). We use saliency to
approximate the incentives to generate position-taking
benefits from early bill initiation. When a government
bill represents a policy in an area that is more salient to
24
The minimum value of 1 raises the question of how quickly a
parliament can approve a bill. The distribution of experienced scru-
tiny by country can be seen in Figure E1 of Appendix E. The
comparison of the plots in Figure E1 indicates that the median value
for experienced scrutiny is greater than 50 days in all our cases, with
some countries having a median value greater than 100 days (e.g.,
Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, and the Netherlands). The
surprising value of 1 comes from Denmark, and although we could
not rule out this observation as an entry mistake in the countrys
legislative data repository, we decided for keeping all the observa-
tions in our analyses.
25
The zero values for experienced scrutiny were deleted from our
dataset (1,462 cases, 5% of our observations). These values depict
early initiated bills (i.e., the first initiated bills in the governments
term) that were not yet approved by parliament until the first
approved bill. Therefore, these are cases where no information is
available for ministers regarding the passage and scrutiny of their
bills, and fall outside our models empirical implications. As a robust-
ness check of our main results, we also conduct our main models
keeping the zero values for experienced scrutiny. The results are
robust to our main findings as described in section Results and
Discussion.
26
As described below, we also include the variables policy saliency
and ministers party size in our models to identify how our measure-
ment of coalition policy divergence affects bill initiation timing.
Alternatively, coalition policy divergence could be weighted by policy
saliency and the ministers party size (similar to our measurement of
opposition policy divergence). By using this alternative measurement,
however, we would not know whether coalition policy divergence, the
ministers party size,orpolicy saliency is driving our results. More-
over, the inclusion of ministers party size as one of the three variables
interacted in the estimation to test our third hypothesis would raise a
further issue in using this alternative measurement. As a constitutive
term of the triple interaction, to avoid bias, we have to include
ministers party size as a control in model 3 while also using it to
weight our alternative measurement of coalition policy divergence.
Therefore, we opted for the unweighted measure of coalition policy
divergence and the inclusion of the ministers party size and policy
saliency as control variables in our main analyses.
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the party of the minister, we expect an early timing of
bill initiation; otherwise, when the minister initiates the
bill late in the term, she risks forgoing considerable
position-taking benefits. Therefore, we control for
area-specific saliency based on counting relative men-
tions of a specific policy category in a given partys
manifesto related to a portfolio that the bill belongs.
Following Lowe et al. (2011), we log transform the
counts so that the measure is robust to extreme values.
Given that opposition parties may also vary in their
incentives to scrutinize government bills and thus affect
their duration when they collaborate in parliament, we
control for the cohesiveness of their policy positions.
Specifically, we calculate the variance of the policy
positions of opposition parties in parliament. To further
account for their party size and policy saliency, we
weight the policy positions of opposition parties with
their seat shares and the saliency opposition parties
attach to different policy areas.
27
Because the length of
terms differs across elections and countries, we also
control for observed government duration, measured
in days. In Table 1, we show the descriptive statistics of
the variables included in our analyses.
Method
To empirically examine the timing of government bills
in the cycle of a term, we consider the circular nature of
our data.
28
Following our theory, we treat terms as new
cycles of legislative activities, which avoids counting
bills from previous terms as bills from a new term.
Following Woldendorp, Keman, and Budge (2000)
and Seki and Williams (2014), we define a new term
by changes in the composition of the coalition govern-
ment (either by a change in party composition or prime
minister).
29
Unlike linear regression estimators, which
ignore the bounds of the dependent variable, and
aggregated measures such as counts of bills within a
certain period, which risk ecological fallacy, a promis-
ing way to analyze our type of data is to use circular
regression (Gill and Hangartner 2010; Mulder and
Klugkist 2017).
30
Circular regression considers the
relative temporal location of government bills within
a term when estimating how and to what extent a
variable influences the timing of an event (e.g., early
or late event) within a cycle.
In our analysis, circular regression enables examin-
ing the timing of bill initiation at the government level.
To draw inference and quantify the uncertainty of the
estimates, we apply a Bayesian version of circular
regression, which incorporates priors for posterior sam-
pling using the MetropolisHastings sampler (Mulder
and Klugkist 2017). Our dependent variable bill timing
is a continuous variable on a unit circle ranging from
0to2π, which indicates the relative temporal location of
a bill on the circle of a term. Our statistical model takes
the following form for the estimation of model 1, which
examines our first hypothesis on late government bill
initiation when the minister has experienced greater
scrutiny of her previous bills:
Billtiming ¼μ0þg1β1Experiencedscrutiny þXϕþε

,
where μ0on the right-hand side of the equation meas-
ures circular intercepts and g1ðÞis a transformation
function mapping values to the circular space.
Although there are multiple choices available for
g1ðÞ (see e.g., Fisher and Lee 1992), we follow the
most common practice and assume that g1ðÞtakes the
form of 2 arctan ðÞ, with βs as the coefficients to be
estimated (Gill and Hangartner 2010). Xis a matrix of
observations on our control variables with parameter
estimates vector ϕ, and εis the error term.
To account for the heterogeneity of the positive
effect of experienced scrutiny on late bill initiation by
the level of policy divergence between the coalition
parties, we consider the interaction between experi-
enced scrutiny and coalition policy divergence. The
corresponding estimation examines our second hypoth-
esis with the following specification (model 2):
Billtiming ¼μ0þg1
ðβ1Experiencedscrutiny þβ2Coalitionpolicydivergence
þβ3Experiencedscrutiny Coalitionpolicydivergence
þXϕþεÞ:
Following our theoretical model and disentangling
each effect of interest, we examine hypotheses 2 and
3 separately because policy divergence and ministerial
power might affect the relationship between parlia-
mentary scrutiny and timing of bill initiation through
different channels: the former directly affects the policy
payoffs, whereas the latter determines extent to which
the scrutiny action can be executed.
31
Although policy
divergence between the coalition parties magnifies the
27
In our data, the opposition policy divergence ranges from 0 to 1.08,
with a mean value of 0.18 and a standard deviation of 0.16 (for
country-specific information, see the tables in Appendix E). The
minimum value of 0 represents cases in which either there is only
one party comprising the opposition force or opposition parties are
located at the same position of our measurement, in terms of party
size and policy saliency.
28
For an overview of circular data, see Lee (2010).
29
More specifically, a term continues in the absence of (1) a change in
prime ministership, (2) a change in party composition of the govern-
ment (i.e., parties moving in or out, but not reshuffles within the
government), or (3) resignation of government within the electoral
cycle. In this sense, every new term in our dataset must have at least
one change in terms of the composition of coalition parties, conse-
quently changing the dynamics in which the learning process was
taking place in the previous government (Seki and Williams 2014).
30
For a brief introduction to circular regression, see Appendix F of
the supplementary material. Given the cyclical nature of our data, in
Appendix F we highlight the appropriateness of using circular regres-
sion analysis instead of linear regression analysis (among other
estimators). We demonstrate that because linear regression models
ignore the bounds of the dependent variable which are within an
interval of 2πby construction, linear estimators will falsely predict the
effects of variables on timing.
31
A simultaneous model for hypotheses 2 and 3 would make the
interpretation of our results cumbersome, and as demonstrated by
Hainmueller, Mummolo, and Xu (2019), the issue of a lack of
Thomas König et al.
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policy losses the minister incurs in case of scrutiny, the
ministers powers allow her to constrain scrutiny activ-
ities to some extent. To examine our third hypothesis
on the power of the minister to constrain scrutiny
activities, we use two measures of parliamentary
powers: ministers party holding the median policy
position in parliament (minister median party) and the
size of the ministers party in terms of their relative seat
share in parliament (ministers party size). This results
in the following model 3:
Billtiming ¼μ0þg1ðβ1Experiencedscrutinyþ
β2Ministerspartysize þβ3Ministermedianpartyþ
β4Experiencedscrutiny Ministers partysizeþ
β5Experiencedscrutiny Ministermedianpartyþ
β6Ministerspartysize Ministermedianpartyþ
β7Experiencedscrutiny Ministers partysize
Ministermedianparty þXϕþεÞ:
To estimate the models, we run 100,000 Markov chain
Monte Carlo (MCMC) iterations and take the first
1,000 iterations as burn-ins. The convergence diagnos-
tics presented in Appendix G make us confident that all
chains have appropriately converged.
32
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
In Table 2, we present the results of our model estima-
tions. The estimates for the independent variables
depict the effect of each variable on the timing of the
bill initiation (earlier or later in a term), holding all
other variables constant. Positive estimates indicate
that government bills are introduced later within a
term, whereas negative estimates mean that they are
introduced earlier within a term.
According to our hypothesis 1, we expect late initi-
ation of government bills the greater the experienced
scrutiny of previous bills within a ministers portfolio.
This expectation is supported by the results depicted in
model 1 of Table 2. As indicated by the estimate for
experienced scrutiny, holding all control variables
TABLE 2. The Effects of Experienced Scrutiny, Coalition Policy Divergence, and Powerful Ministers
on Timing of Bill Initiation
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3
(Hypothesis 1) (Hypothesis 2) (Hypothesis 3)
Experienced scrutiny 0.49 0.36 0.58
[0.46, 0.52] [0.33, 0.40] [0.52, 0.63]
Experienced scrutiny coal. pol. divergence 0.31
[0.25, 0.37]
Exp. scrutiny min. party size min. median party 0.36
[0.49, 0.25]
Minister median party 0.65
[1.02, 0.29]
Ministers party size 0.03 0.02 0.07
[0.05, 0.01] [0.04, 0.01] [0.02, 0.12]
Coalition policy divergence 0.19 0.04 0.23
[0.16, 0.21] [0.08, 0.01] [0.20, 0.25]
Policy saliency 0.19 0.21 0.16
[0.21, 0.16] [0.23, 0.18] [0.18, 0.13]
Opposition policy divergence 0.07 0.09 0.08
[0.09, 0.05] [0.11, 0.07] [0.10, 0.06]
Government duration 0.26 0.26 0.26
[0.29, 0.24] [0.28, 0.23] [0.29, 0.24]
Experienced scrutiny ministers party size 0.15
[0.21, 0.09]
Experienced scrutiny minister median party 0.49
[0.31, 0.69]
Ministers party size Minister median party 0.17
[0.11, 0.23]
Intercept 0.21 0.22 0.41
[0.18, 0.25] [0.18, 0.25] [0.29, 0.53]
Note: Dependent Variable: Temporal location of bill initiations within a term. MCMC run for 100,000 iterations; first 1,000 iterations as burn
ins. Lower and upper bounds of 95%credible intervals in brackets. N: 25,477 government bills.
common support for the moderator becomes more pronounced when
adding interaction terms to a multiplicative interaction model.
32
Because the log-likelihood function of circular regression is not
globally concave, we also show in Appendix G that our sampler is
likely to have explored the global optimum of the posterior distribu-
tion rather than being trapped in some local optima.
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constant, the greater the experienced scrutiny of their
previous bills, the later ministers introduce subsequent
bills within the term. This estimate is positive and
significant (as the range of values of the estimate does
not cross the value of zero between the lower and upper
bounds of the 95% credible intervals within brackets).
Following our theory, after ministers experience scru-
tiny and learn that they face a competitive partner type,
they are more likely to initiate new government bills
late in the term.
The substantive effect of experienced scrutiny on the
timing of bill initiation (as estimated in model 1 of
Table 2) is depicted graphically in Figure 3. Within
the circle of Figure 3, the periods of the term are
represented as percentages (from 0% at the beginning
to 100% at the end of the term). The range in the figure
goes from 1 to 60that is, from the minimum to
approximately the median value of experienced scru-
tiny. This range is depicted by the vertical line from the
small circle to the larger circle in Figure 3. The blue
curve inside the circle shows the predicted value (with a
95% credible interval) of the effect of our covariate on
the timing of bill initiation, holding all other variables
constant. From the fitted blue curve, we can observe
that, on average, an increase in experienced scrutiny
from 1 day to 60 days (median value) leads to later
initiation of new bills by about 50% within a term.
Our analysis so far has supported our first hypoth-
esis, according to which greater experienced scrutiny of
government bills results in late initiation of new bills.
Based on our second hypothesis, this positive effect of
experienced scrutiny on late bill initiation should be
stronger the higher the policy divergence between the
coalition parties. The result presented in model 2 of
Table 2 supports this prediction. The substantive effect
of this positive relationship between experienced scru-
tiny and coalition policy divergence is depicted with a
graphical illustration of the marginal effects of experi-
enced scrutiny on the timing of bill initiation (y-axis),
conditional on the variation of coalition policy diver-
gence (x-axis)inFigure 4.
Figure 4 highlights our finding that the effect of
experienced scrutiny on late bill initiation (based on
the positive fitted line with a 95% credible interval) is
enhanced by a higher policy divergence within the
coalition government, holding all control variables
constant.
33
The positive slope depicted in Figure 4
suggests that in an environment comprised of competi-
tive partners, late initiation of government bills becomes
more predictable the higher the policy divergence among
the parties that comprise the coalition government.
According to our third hypothesis, if the minister has
powers to constrain or preclude scrutiny activities in
parliament, we should observe a weakening in the
positive effect of experienced scrutiny on late bill initi-
ation. To examine this prediction, we approximate the
parliamentary powers of the minister by her party
holding the median policy position in parliament and
by her partys relative size in terms of parliamentary seat
share. In support of hypothesis 3, we can see in model 3 of
Table 2 that the effect of experienced scrutiny on late
initiation is substantially reduced when we add a triple
interaction to our model between experienced scrutiny,
ministers party size,andminister median party. We can
better depict this result by interpreting the marginal
effects of experienced scrutiny on the timing of bill initi-
ation, conditional on the variation of both ministersparty
size and minister median party (see Figure 5 below).
34
The solid-line slope in Figure 5 depicts the marginal
effects of experienced scrutiny on the timing of bill
initiation (with a 95% credible interval) when the
FIGURE 3. The Effect of Experienced Scrutiny
on the Timing of Bill Initiation
0%
50%
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
Exp. Scrutiny
0%
%
5
2
50%
%57
Temporal location (95% CI)
Note: Results based on the estimates presented in model 1 of
Table 2. The figure shows that, on average, an increase in
experienced scrutiny from 1 day to 60 days (median value) leads
to a later initiation by about 50%within a term.
33
To demonstrate that the risk of extrapolation to areas with little
support of the data does not influence our conclusion, we adopt a
more flexible estimation strategy in Appendix K by binning coalition
policy divergence (the conditional covariate in Figure 4) into three
equal-sized groups and estimating the nonlinear interaction effects.
Figure K1 in the supplementary material illustrates the consistency of
our original results by adopting a more flexible estimation strategy.
34
We calculate the marginal effects from the interaction term in the
following way. Consider for example the following simple case where
we have estimated the equation Y¼β0þβ1X1þβ2X2þβ3X1X2.
To identify the conditional effects of X1on Yconditional on X2,we
differentiate the equation by X1:
Y
X1¼β0þβ1X1þβ2X2þβ3X1X2
ðÞ
X1¼β1þβ3X2:
The resulting conditional effect of X1on Yconditional on X2
is thus β1þβ3X2. For circular regression, we consider linear
combination of covariates within the link function g1ðÞ:
gμ0
ðÞþβ1X1þβ2X2þβ3X1X2, in which the intercept term gμ0
ðÞ
does not depend on the values of X1. Therefore, the conditional
effects of X1conditional on X2follow the above form except that
the outcome Yis now transformed by the strictly increasing link
function gðÞ.
Thomas König et al.
12
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ministers party does not hold the median policy pos-
ition in parliament, conditional on the size of the
ministers party. The dashed-line slope depicts the mar-
ginal effects of experienced scrutiny on the timing of bill
initiation (with a 95% credible interval) when the
ministers party holds the median position in parlia-
ment (i.e., minister median party equals 1), conditional
on the size of the ministers party. As highlighted in
Figure 5, the positive effect of experienced scrutiny on
late bill initiation becomes weaker the greater the size
of the ministers party in parliament. Moreover, this
effect is further weakened when the ministers party
holds the median policy position in parliament. More
precisely, when the party of the minister holds the
median policy position in parliament, the magnitude
of the effect is indistinguishable among small minister-
ial parties (as indicated by the two predicted lines
overlapping for ministerial parties holding less than
35% of the seats). However, as the ministers party
holding the median policy position in parliament
becomes larger (in our case, controlling more than
35% of the seats), the positive effect of experienced
scrutiny on late bill initiation becomes smaller, eventu-
ally nonsignificant when approaching the maximum
value for ministers party size in our sample (0.59). This
result supports our hypothesis 3 and reveals the
importance of considering both the median policy pos-
ition and the size of the ministersparty when examin-
ing our expectation that powerful ministers are capable
to incur less scrutiny and have fewer incentives to
initiate bills late in the term.
The results from our control variables also present
interesting and expected patterns. Holding all other
variables constant, bills addressing policy areas of high
saliency for the ministerial party are, on average, initi-
ated earlier within the term (indicated by the negative
and significant estimate for policy saliency). As these
bills are probably highly visible to the constituencies of
ministerial parties, this underlines their strategy of
generating position-taking benefits by early bill initi-
ation. A higher share of parliamentary seats also seems
to translate into earlier initiation of bills, as indicated by
the negative and significant estimate for ministers party
size in model 1 and model 2 of Table 2. Furthermore,
the greater the policy divergence between parties that
comprise the opposition (opposition policy divergence),
the earlier the minister introduces a government bill.
This is also to be expected because a lower cohesive-
ness of opposition parties reduces the risk of scrutiny
and thus allows ministers to generate position-taking
benefits. The negative and significant estimate for gov-
ernment duration can be interpreted as constraints of
FIGURE 4. Marginal Effects of Experienced Scrutiny on Bill Initiation Timing, Conditional on Coalition
Policy Divergence
0
2.5
5
0.0 2.5 5.0 7.5 10.0
Coalition Policy Divergence
Marginal Effects of Experienced Scrutiny
Note: The higher the coalition policy divergence, the greater the effect of experienced scrutiny on late bill initiation. Results based on the
estimates presented in model 2 of Table 2. The vertical bars in the background of the figure depict the distribution of the variable coalition
policy divergence.
Agenda Control and Timing of Bill Initiation
13
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the electoral calendar and voter demands imposed on
the minister. The minister cannot delay her bills indef-
initely at the risk of not having time before the next
election to approve her policy agenda and being pen-
alized by her constituency in the election. Thus, as the
term passes by, the likelihood that ministers will initiate
government bills increases. Another explanation that
we cannot dismiss is that the effect of observed govern-
ment duration might be driven by very short-lived
coalition governments, which inevitably have less time
to initiate bills.
35
To test the consistency of our findings, we have
conducted several robustness checks, which are pre-
sented in Appendix II: Goodness of Fit and Robustness
Checks of the supplementary material. The results
from these robustness checks strengthen the main find-
ings (presented in Table 2)
36
of this study on the
dynamic temporal perspective on coalition policy mak-
ing, giving us confidence that ministers initiate bills
later within a term when their past bills have experi-
enced greater scrutiny and that this positive effect of
experienced scrutiny on late bill initiation is stronger
the greater the coalition partiesincentives to imple-
ment their ideal policy positions (i.e., the higher the
policy divergence between the coalition parties) and
the less powerful that ministers are to preclude scrutiny
activities in parliament.
CONCLUSION
We developed a conceptual framework to study the
temporal dimension of democratic governance and
analyzed the timing of government bill initiation in
parliamentary democracies. Our dynamic temporal
perspective can be applied to other political
FIGURE 5. Marginal Effects of Experienced Scrutiny on the Timing of Bill Initiation, Conditional on the
Ministers Party Size and Minister Median Party
0
0.5
1
1.5
0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6
Minister's Size (Seat Share)
Marginal Effects of Experienced Scrutiny
Minister Party Median = 0 Minister Party Median = 1
Note: The vertical bars in the background of the figure depict the distribution of the variable ministers size (seat share).
35
This raises concern on the potential endogeneity (to the policy-
making process) of government duration. If government duration is
endogenous to policy making, we would be incorrectly considering
late initiation in short governments (e.g., one-year governments) that
would otherwise be early initiations according to an ex ante expected
duration (e.g., four-year governments). The termination of these
governments (making them short governments) could then be a
consequence, for example, of a high degree of competitive partners,
obstructing the coalition from governing. In response to this concern,
we run additional analyses to capture the effects of or separate the ex
ante expected duration of government from the actual duration of
governments in Appendix H. Our original results are consistent with
these robustness checks, increasing our confidence in the independ-
ence assumption of our statistical analyses regarding endogeneity of
government duration to the policy-making process.
36
The country FE test for our third hypothesis is the only exception,
leading to an insignificant estimate for the triple interactive term
between experienced scrutiny,ministers party size, and minister
median party (see model 1 of Table J5 in the supplementary mater-
ial). This deviation suggests that particular institutional features
within parliamentary democracies are a topic worthy of further
exploration in future research.
Thomas König et al.
14
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phenomena and contexts in which policy makers learn
about their counterparts from their experiences within
a prescribed period such as parliamentary sessions,
legislative terms, and other decision-making processes.
Compared with the predominant one-shot analyses of
their policy-making interactions, we model and exam-
ine the temporal interaction between a proposer and
the type of her counterpart. We assume that the pro-
posing policy maker does not know whether she is
confronted with a competitive or cooperative partner
type at the beginning. Over time, however, she may
learn the partners type from experiencing responses to
her proposals and adapt her behavior by timing the
initiation of subsequent proposals.
Although our analysis follows the rules of parliamen-
tary democracies by fixing the duration of the term,
during which the proposer learns about her partners
type, our theory can be extended to consider endogen-
ous duration with the partner having an exit option that
may trigger the collapse of the partnership. The equi-
librium behavior will then depend on costs or benefits
incurred from termination and might affect the pro-
posers incentives for later initiation. We believe that
this topic is a promising avenue for future research on
the temporal dimension of democratic governance.
According to our analysis of the timing of govern-
ment bill initiation, the agenda setter forms a belief
about her partners type after experiencing scrutiny to
her bills and times her further bill initiation based on
(1) her belief in facing a specific partner type, (2) the
policy incentives her partner has to challenge her bills,
and (3) her powers to preclude the scrutiny of her
bills.
37
Compared with existing theories on coalition
governance, our dynamic temporal perspective intro-
duces an additional learning channel to derive hypoth-
eses on policy-making experiences of ministers and
their responses to the type of partner they face during
the term. The empirical results lend support to our
predictions based on evidence from 11 parliamentary
democracies, demonstrating that proposing ministers
learn about the type of their coalition partners from
experienced scrutiny and adapt their bill initiation
behavior and timing over a term. Our sample differs
in size, wealth, culture, history, and democratic foun-
dation of parliamentary democracies under coalition
governments. Given a large sample of government
bills, our data can be further updated and applied to
other political activities that allow for learning
over time.
Methodologically, we demonstrate that rather than
imposing strong assumptions on linear estimators, we
can account for the cyclical structure of our data by
using a Bayesian circular regression model. Because
democratic governance imposes temporal limits to pol-
icy-making activities, we estimated the relative tem-
poral location of observed bill initiation to examine the
empirical implications derived from our dynamic the-
ory. We hope that the use of this method encourages
further studies adopting a temporal perspective, which
we believe is suited for a broader scholarship using data
of cyclical nature in political science such as data on
electoral, legislative, congressional, and parliamentary
terms. Beyond the adequacy of our methodological
approach, in the supplementary material we provide
model extensions that highlight the stability of our
empirical implications theoretically and also conduct
several robustness checks that strengthen our main
empirical findings on the timing of bill initiation.
In addition to our methodological and empirical
contribution, we believe that our theoretical focus on
the temporal dimension of policy making can stimulate
further research on democratic governance. This tem-
poral dimension implies that policy makers attempt
to optimize their behavior by timing their activities,
whichin our case, of coalition governmentsdepends
on the type of their partnership. Similar dependencies
may exist from other counterparts, such as opposition
parties, bicameral actors, presidents, or courts. Further-
more, the optimal behavior of these actors may change
over time and differ across policy areas wherein policy
makers can experience other types of dependencies
such as from the voters, interest groups, or international
actors. Apart from additional applications to other
phenomena, we hope that our parsimonious dynamic
setting will encourage scholars to extend our theory for
the study of more complex interactions of democratic
governance.
SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS
To view supplementary material for this article, please
visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0003055421000897.
DATA AVAILABILITY STATEMENT
Replication files, including R code and data, are openly
available at the American Political Science Review
Dataverse: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/OFCAAE.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
For their helpful comments and suggestions, we thank
the APSR editorial team, four anonymous reviewers,
and the participants of the panel The Strategy of
Coalitionsat the 11th Annual Conference of the
European Political Science Association (EPSA). We
thank Mariyana Angelova and Frank Marczewski for
their help with data collection. We also acknowledge
support by the state of Baden-Württemberg through
bwHPC computing infrastructure.
37
Bill complexity constitutes another factor that might influence the
timing of bill initiation. On the one hand, the minister needs more
time to work on complex bills and thus may introduce them later
on. On the other hand, it takes the partner more time to fully examine
these complex bills, which is likely to shape the ministers belief about
the type of her partner and therefore the timing of bill initiation. In
both cases, bill complexity leads to the late initiation of legislation.
We leave this hypothesis to be addressed in future research.
Agenda Control and Timing of Bill Initiation
15
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The authors contributed equally, and their names are
ordered alphabetically.
FUNDING STATEMENT
The authors acknowledge funding support from the
German Research Foundation (grant number
139943784) via Collaborative Research Center (SFB)
884, The Political Economy of Reforms(Project C1:
Legislative Reforms and Party Competition) at the
University of Mannheim.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The authors declare no ethical issues or conflicts of
interest in this research.
ETHICAL STANDARDS
The authors affirm this research did not involve human
subjects.
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