Complex political systems, where besides the incumbent government other elected and non elected actors are involved in the decision-making process, blur the lines of policy responsibility and jeopardize the electoral accountability of incumbent governments. While we know that on aggregate, voters in systems with blurred lines of responsibility hold governments accountable to a lesser extend, we know surprisingly little why people in the same country assign different degrees of responsibility and punish and reward the incumbent government to a different extend. This paper focuses on parliamentary democracies with coalition governments and unveils one central factor which influences voters’ decision to judge the government and not other actors as more responsible. This factor is perceived level of intra-cabinet conflict in coalition governments. I suggest that voters use signals of coalition conflict (which is an essential part of the political reality in multiparty governments) as a cognitive short-cut (heuristic) to infer government responsibility and engage in more rigorous electoral accountability. I find strong empirical support for these arguments using survey data from Germany, which allows me to analyze decisions of responsibility attribution and electoral accountability given voters’ perceptions of the economic situation in Germany and their (dis-)satisfaction with government policies across 20 policy areas.
Keywords: Coalition Conflict, Government Responsibility, Electoral Accountability
Wednesday, March 31, 2021, 1:30 pm – 3:10 pm