Gamson's Law and Voters’ Perceptions of Portfolio Allocation

Nick C. N. Lin, Randolph T. Stevenson, Mathias Wessel Tromborg, David Fortunato

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The assignment of ministerial portfolios to parties is one of the most contested and consequential processes in coalition politics. Accordingly, a great deal of scholarship has investigated how many portfolios different parties obtain in coalition negotiations as well as which parties are assigned which portfolios. However, to our knowledge, no one has ever examined how voters perceive the outcomes of this process – perceptions which must be fundamental to any assessment of policy responsibility in systems with coalition government. This article uses original survey data from four Western European countries to examine voter perceptions of the distribution of cabinet portfolios across parties. In addition to describing the extent to which voters know this distribution, the article also examines whether their perceptions are consistent with a number of different heuristics that voters might use to infer characteristics of the cabinet portfolio distribution. The results suggest that many voters use party role and size heuristics to infer the number of portfolios allocated to different parties as well as an ‘importance rule’, a ‘topical affinity rule’ and a ‘historical regularity rule’ to infer which parties hold which portfolios, but also that a significant number of voters have direct knowledge (not inferred using heuristics) of which parties hold which ministries.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)912-940
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Gamson's Law
  • Portfolio allocation
  • Voters' perceptions

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