Two Sword Lengths Apart: Credible Commitment Problems and Physical Violence in Democratic National Legislatures
Forthcoming in the Journal of Peace Research
27 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2012 Last revised: 21 Jul 2015
Date Written: July 20, 2015
Multi-party elected national legislatures should be venues for peacefully resolving conflicts be- tween opposing groups. However, they can become scenes of physical violence. Such violence is an indication that a country's legislative institutions are functioning far from perfectly as legislative actors are deciding to disregard the rules of the ‘game'. In some cases, such as recently in Ukraine, violence can indicate and possibly fuel deeper political divisions. In this first global study of legislative violence, I argue that brawls are more likely when legislators find it difficult to credibly commit to follow peaceful bargaining outcomes. The problem is exacerbated when legislatures are ‘unfair'. Un-fairness is higher and credible commitment problems more acute in countries with disproportion- ate electoral outcomes and new democracies. I find robust evidence for this argument using a case study of legislative violence in the antebellum United States Senate and a new global data set.
Keywords: legislatures, violence, electoral proportionality, institutional design, democratic consolidation
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