Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 20, Issue 5

Meg Russell, "Parliamentary party cohesion: Some explanations from psychology," Party Politics, 20 (September, 2014), 712-723. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
Many modern parliaments are characterized by strong political parties and highly cohesive party voting. Existing explanations of political party cohesion can be divided into sociological and rational choice approaches (Hazan, 2003; Saalfeld, 1998). The more dominant of these is the rational choice approach, which holds that party representatives base decisions on costs and benefits to themselves, concluding that it is in their interests to toe the party line. This is because party leaders often possess significant powers to punish and reward legislators, for example through withholding re-selection and promising promotion or financial resources.

Table 1. Party cohesion (Rice Index) in the House of Lords 1999-2002.
Table 2. Members' support for statements about party loyalty and disloyal voting behaviour (%).
Table 3. Members' reports of how often loyal and disloyal voting occurs (% responding 'very often'/'often').
Table 4. Members' concerns if voting against the whip (%).
Table 5. Members' attitudes towards their groups.
Table 6. Binary logistic regression using four factors.

Last Paragraph:
The sociological approach to political behaviour was previously discredited for lacking a clear scientific basis and predictive power. But this article has shown that theories from psychology, which are well grounded in rigorous experimental studies, may help to explain political behaviour in more accurate and nuanced ways. Politics is, of course, almost by definition a group activity; hence inclusion of reasoning from social psychology is an obvious step. This should be welcomed in particular by those who find models of politics as a competitive game among selfish individuals unconvincing. A better interdisciplinary understanding may therefore lead both to better theories and to better real-world management of political institutions.

Last updated November 2014