In this article we will review the literature on cabinet durability and cabinet termination. The fact that many cabinets in Western multi-party democracies do not serve out their full potential legal term in office has given rise to an important and growing body of research in political science. Cabinet durability is one of the three main features of cabinets, the others being cabinet party composition and allocation of portfolios. Each is of theoretical interest in itself, but of even greater interest for what it might tell us about broader questions of representation and governance. Each is also important as a development and testing ground for new methodologies.
Our initial aim was to update the excellent review of cabinet durability done over a decade ago by Lawrence C. Dodd, ‘The Study of Cabinet Durability: Introduction and Commentary’, Comparative Political Studies, 17 (1984), 155–62, which became badly out of date because of the considerable volume of recent empirical and theoretical work. Subsequent to the initial submission of this article, we discovered that Paul Warwick, Government Survival in Parliamentary Democracies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), had provided a substantial review of this literature in the course of elaborating his own model of government survival. We have incorporated references to that work here. However, while we agree with much of what Warwick has written, our perspective on the extent of progress in understanding the determinants of cabinet termination and on what remains to be done and how best to proceed is rather different from his.
There is a voluminous literature attempting to predict the party composition of cabinets from the party breakdown in the legislature and other factors, such as the ideological propinquity of the various parties. An excellent recent review is Michael Laver and Norman Schofield, Multiparty Government: The Politics of Coalition in Western Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), which also contains important new theoretical contributions of their own. The literature on portfolio allocations had been relatively dormant since the work of Eric Browne and his colleagues, e.g., Eric C. Browne and Mark Franklin, ‘Aspects of Coalition Payoffs in European Parliamentary Democracies’, American Political Science Review, 67 (1973), 453–69; Eric C. Browne and Karen Feste, ‘Qualitative Dimensions of Coalition Payoffs: Evidence for European Party Governments, 1945–1970’, American Behavioral Scientist, 18 (1975), 530–56; Eric C. Browne and James Frendreis, ‘Allocating Coalition Payoffs by Conventional Norm: An Assessment of the Evidence for Cabinet Coalition Situations,’ American Journal of Political Science, 24 (1980); 753–68, until
reinvigorated by the innovative work of Michael Laver and Kenneth Shepsle, ‘Coalitions and Cabinet Government’, American Political Science Review, 84 (1990), 873–89; Michael Laver and Kenneth Shepsle, Making and Breaking Governments: Cabinets and Legislatures in Parliamentary Democracies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996) which provides a new model of the relationship between party composition, portfolio allocations and policy outcomes (see also David Austen-Smith and Jeffrey Banks, ‘Stable Governments and the Allocations of Policy Portfolios,’ American Political Science Review, 84 (1990), 891–906.