During the past decade, many parliamentary democracies have experienced bargaining delays when forming governments. For example, after the Swedish parliamentary election in 2018, it took 134 days to install a new government, which is especially surprising since all previous Swedish governments since the 1930s have formed within four weeks. The previous literature has attributed protracted government formation processes to a high degree of preference uncertainty among the political parties and a high level of bargaining complexity (resulting, for example, from a high degree of party-system fragmentation). We draw on such theories, but we also highlight a feature that hasn’t received much attention in the previous literature on bargaining duration: “pre-electoral commitments.” We consider such commitments both in terms of positive statements made by parties about alliances with other parties and in terms of negative statements about parties that are considered “pariahs.” Pre-electoral commitments can reduce complexity in a bargaining situation by ruling out certain potential governments as viable alternatives, but they can also increase complexity in cases where the outcome of the election is different from what the parties expected: parties then have to worry about the electoral and intra-party costs that are associated with breaking commitments made before the election. We evaluate our hypotheses using a nested research design, combining a large-n study of approximately 400 government-formation processes in 17 West European parliamentary democracies (1945-2018) with an in-depth case study that is based on 37 interviews with leading Swedish politicians concerning the government-formation process in 2018–2019. This allows us to analyze the effects of pre-electoral commitments on bargaining duration and the causal mechanisms that explain these effects.
Jan Teorell, Professor of Political Science and holder of the Lars Johan Hierta professorial chair, received his PhD in 1998 from the Department of Government, Uppsala University, on a dissertation on intra-party democracy. In 2004-2006, he served as Project Coordinator at the Quality of Government Institute, Göteborg University, responsible for creating the Quality of Government Dataset (www.qog.pol.gu.se), which won the Lijphart, Przeworski, Verba Award for Best Dataset by the APSA Comparative Politics Section at the 2009 Annual Meetings (together with Bo Rothstein and Sören Holmberg), and the Varieties of Democracy dataset (www.v-dem.net), which won the same award in 2016 (together with a large international research team). His research interests include political methodology, history, Swedish and comparative politics, comparative democratization, corruption, and state making.