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Kim: Partisan deadlocks and agenda-setting in American state legislatures

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Kim. 2005. Partisan deadlocks and agenda-setting in American state legislatures. Dissertation chapter.


Although the Conditional Party Government school claims that party preferences matter, Kim demonstrates that institutions must matter in determining legislative outcomes (see pg 27: The phenomena observed here "defy an explanation free of institutions"). His test and theory have two parts:

  1. To demonstrate that institutions matter more than parties, he does a time-series test. (Although there are two cases, WA and VA, the legislatures are being compared only with themselves, not with each other). During periods of partisan deadlock (i.e. a 50-50 split in the legislature), neither party controls the state legislature's authoritative structures (i.e. the Speakership and committee chairmanships). Deadlock should not affect the Conditional Party Government thesis, but it does affect the Institutional thesis (since the control institutions disappear during deadlock). He finds strong evidence that the Institutions matter--a lot.
  2. To demonstrate that centralized institutions (i.e. a strong Speaker) have stronger effects than decentralized institutions (i.e. most authority is with the committee chairmen), he then compares Virginia (decentralized) with Washington (centralized) over the same period.


In legislatures with rules that allow the majority party to have a privileged status to control the agenda, these parties control the agenda by screening out legislation that won't be supported by the majority of their members before such legislation reaches the floor. Minority members have no incentive to strictly oppose the majority's legislation, especially when it is in line with their preferences. Thus, we should see greater unity within the majority party under this system. We should also see lower dimensionality because of the majority party influence among its members. Parties in legislatures without a central figure to control the agenda see defections at a much greater frequency.

Kim compares Washington and Virginia's lower chambers from just before partisan deadlock, during, and after deadlocks to draw out the effects of party influence. During the time effects of majority party influence should disappear when both parties have to share power equally. Kim is testing for intraparty cohesion, interparty disparity in support for legislation, and percentage of bills that reach the floor for each party and the percentage of time the majority and minority gets rolled to get at the effects of party influence.


1.Committee-dominated legislatures exhibit greater dimensionality. Supported: Figure 1 shows that Washington House has lower dimensionality

2.Centralized legislatures feature greater party unity for majority party than minority. Supported: Table 1 shows a greater disparity in intraparty cohesion in Washington House.

3.Number of majority party rolls will be larger in a committee-dominated legislature than in a centralized legislature. Supported-Table 2&3

4.Difference between the majority and the minority in average support for bills will be smaller in committee dominated legislature than centralized legislature. Supported-Table 2&3: Minority in Washington House defects more often.

5.If centralized legislature undergoes a partisan deadlock, the disparity in roll call voting between both parties would disappear. Supported-Table 3 (only minor disparity)

6.If a centralized legislature undergoes a partisan deadlock, neither party would be rolled in floor voting. Generally Supported-Table 3 (previous majority gets rolled just twice)

7.A partisan deadlock in a committee-dominated legislature would not necessarily reduce the former minority party's roll rate. Who knows? The # of rolls is slightly reduced in deadlock, but it isn't a clear prediction.

8.A partisan deadlock in a committee-dominated legislature would not reduce the frequency of "partisan" bills reaching the floor. Weakly supported or weakly defeated: there is a small reduction in the number of partisan bills for both parties.


  1. H7: should a hypothesis use sharper language to make clearer predictions? "Not necessarily" seems like it gives the author some room to "fudge" the analysis or a free pass when they don't find what they want.
  2. Why not include more observations from before and after to solidify the findings?

Research on similar subjects


Kim, Henry (author)American PoliticsPartiesLegislaturesState Politics (U.S.)Conditional Party GovernmentCartel TheoryPreferencesLegislative Parties

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