Irresponsible Parties, Responsible Voters? Legislative Gridlock and Collective Accountability


Legislative gridlock is a failure of one of the key functions of government: to pass legislation. Can voters counter such political dysfunction? This paper examines whether and how voters hold politicians accountable for gridlock. We focus on the passage of the government budget, the central task of any legislature, and define a legislature to experience budgetary gridlock if it fails to pass the budget on time. We document, based on twenty years of budget enactment data, that voters hold state legislators accountable for budget gridlock in US state governments, with gridlocked incumbents losing their seat more often than incumbents passing budgets on time. Based on established theories of party organization in American politics, we develop three competing theoretical hypotheses to guide our understanding of the observed patterns of retrospective voting. We find strong support for collective electoral accountability with voters punishing incumbent members of state legislature majority parties.


Earlier iterations presented at: APSA, Copenhagen, Hertie School, Lund, NYU.