Fernando Casal Bértoa – Party Systems and Governments Observatory (PSGo): A New Research Tool

This is a guest post by Fernando Casal Bértoa from the University of Nottingham.


Have you ever wondered who governs the countries of Europe? Would you like to know who governed your country more than a century ago? Are you not sure about the partisan affiliation of ministers in your neighboring states? Are you interested in discovering how has the (economic and financial) crisis affected the composition of European governments and party systems?

Now a quick answer to all these questions, and more, is possible thanks to a new research project at the University of Nottingham: namely, the Party Systems and Governments Observatory (PSGo), a new research interactive tool (whogoverns.eu)[1] where data on government formation and party system institutionalization in 48 European democratic states since 1848 can be found. European indicates those countries stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals. Democratic refers to those countries displaying (1) a score of 6 or higher in the Polity IV index, (2) universal suffrage elections (including universal male suffrage only, when historically appropriate), and (3) governments formed and/or relying on a parliamentary majority, rather than on the exclusive will of the head of state. States includes those countries recognized by either the United Nations or the Council of Nations.[2]

In particular, and as it follows from the table below, the number of years per country varies between just one (e.g. Czechoslovakia’s Third Republic and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) and more than a century (e.g. Norway or Denmark). Secondly, the number of political regimes taken into account varies between just one (e.g. Belgium or the Netherlands) and four (France and Greece). Thirdly, the number of electoral cycles taken into account varies between just one (e.g. Greece’s post-WWII Kingdom or Poland’s First Republic) and thirty-three (Switzerland). Finally, the number of cabinets taken into account varies between just one (Czechoslovakia’s Third Republic) or two (e.g. Belarus or Kosovo) and ninety-seven (France’s Third Republic).

European democracies (1848-2014)

Country Period Country Period
Albania 2002- Kingdom of SHS 1921
Andorra 1993- Kosovo 2008-
Armenia 1991-1994 Latvia (post-WWI) 1920-1933
Austria (1st Republic) 1920-1932 Latvia (post-1989) 1993-
Austria (2nd Republic) 1946- Liechtenstein 1993-
Belarus 1991-1994 Lithuania 1993-
Belgium 1919- Luxembourg 1920-
Bulgaria 1991- Macedonia 1992-
Croatia 2000- Malta 1964-
Cyprus 1978- Moldova 1994-
Czechoslovakia (1st Rep) 1918-1938 Montenegro 2007-
Czechoslovakia (3rd Rep) 1946 The Netherlands 1918-
Czech Republic 1993 Norway 1905-
Denmark 1911-1934 Poland (2nd Republic) 1918-1926
Estonia (post-WWI) 1921-1934 Poland (3rd Republic) 1991-
Estonia (post-1989) 1992- Portugal (1st Republic) 1919-1925
Finland (post-WWI) 1917-1930 Portugal (3rd Republic) 1976-
Finland (post-WWII) 1945- Romania 1996-
France (2nd Republic) 1848-1851 Russia 2000-2006
France (3rd Republic) 1876-1940 San Marino (post-WWI) 1920-1923
France (4th Republic) 1946-1957 San Marino (post-WWII) 1945-
France (5th Republic) 1968- Serbia 2001-
Georgia 2004- Slovenia 1993-
Germany (Weimar Rep) 1925-1932 Spain (Restoration) 1900-1923
Germany (post-WWII) 1949- Spain (2nd Republic) 1931-1936
Greece (King. of George I) 1875-1914 Spain (post-Francoist) 1979-
Greece (2nd Republic) 1926-1936 Sweden 1917-
Greece (post-WWII) 1946-1948 Switzerland 1897-
Greece (3rd Republic) 1975- Turkey (post-WWII) 1946-1953
Hungary 1990- Turkey (post-1960 coup) 1961-1979
Iceland 1944- Turkey (post-1980 coup) 1983-
Ireland 1923- Ukraine 1994-
Italy 1948- United Kingdom 1919-

In terms of government composition, the database contains information on cabinet duration (i.e. dates of formation and termination), the names of the various ministerial offices as well as of the people[3] appointed to occupy them, and the partisan affiliation of each minister at the time a particular cabinet is appointed.[4]

In accordance with the party government literature (Müller and Strøm, 2000), the database records changes of government in three different instances:

a) change in the partisan composition of the government coalition,
b) change in the prime minister, and
c) celebration of parliamentary elections.

In case of electoral coalitions, the database also displays information about the partisan affiliation of the ministers belonging to the different parties within the coalition. In those instances when two or more political formations merged to form a new party, the partisan affiliation of the ministers belonging to the parties merged is also shown.

In terms of party systems, and closely following the party politics literature (Bartolini and Mair, 1990; Huntington, 1968; Lijphart, 1999; Mainwaring and Scully, 1995; Sartori, 1976), the database contains operationalisations and measurements for six different classic indicators:

                a) party system institutionalisation, calculated in four different periods (pre-WWI, inter-war, post-WWII, and post-1989),
                b) party institutionalization, calculated according to average party age as well as Lewis’ (2006) index,

c) electoral volatility, measured by Pedersen’s (1979) index,
d) the effective number of (electoral and legislative) parties, measured by Laakso and Taagepera’s index,

e) the number of “new” parties, with at least 0.5 per cent of votes,

f) polarization, calculated as the percentage of votes obtained by anti-establishment-parties, and

g) electoral disproportionality, measured by Gallagher’s (1991) index.

All in all, the database covers 166 years, 66 different historical political regimes, roughly 670 elections, and more than 1600 cases of government formation.

Finally, and for those interested in more than plain data, the Observatory also runs a blog where country experts post their knowledgeable opinions on the latest process of cabinet formation (for example in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Kosovo, Romania), including inside analyses on coalition negotiations, possible government alternatives, future outcomes and expectations, and the like.

[1] See also https://twitter.com/whogovernseu or https://www.facebook.com/whogovernseurope.

[2] As a result, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not included.

[3] Senior, but not junior (i.e. deputy), ministers are recorded.

[4] Simple government reshuffles (i.e. change of ministers without proper “governmental change”, see above) are not recorded.

Fernando Casal Bértoa is a Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham (UK). He is also co-director of the Centre for Comparative and Political Research at the School of Politics and International Relations. Before he was a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Leiden in The Netherlands. He studied Law at the University of Navarra (Pamplona, Spain) and Political Science at the University of Salamanca (Spain). After specializing in Eastern and Central European Studies at the Jagiellonian University (Cracow, Poland), he obtained his PhD at the European University Institute (Florence, Italy). His work has been published in Party Politics, Government and Opposition, International Political Science Review, South European Society and Politics, or East European Politics.

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