The Encyclopedia of Democracy

Authors: Lipset
Summary: In slightly less than 2000 words, the entry defines coalition building, discusses when coalitions form, and describes different types of coalitions.
The entry defines coalition building as "the process of uniting different political actors or organizations in the pursuit of some common goal." Coalition building and collective action have long been perplexing and fundamental political problems. Scholars have studied coalitions in myriad political situations, such as elections, legislatures, courts, parties, and cabinets. The entry provides a number of examples, but focuses primarily on inter party executive coalitions in parliamentary democracies.
In many parliamentary democracies, political parties are a key factor in determining executive governmental control. Such coalition building is one part of the governmental formation process. A variety of factors influence how coalitions and governments develop, including institutional rules, extra parliamentary groups and structural constraints.
There are many different kinds of executive coalitions and the entry provides a brief but well-rounded overview of the topic. Coalitions may be either true--consisting of two or more parties--or single-party cabinets. They may also be either majority or minority coalitions. Coalitions are further distinguished into minimal winning, oversized and undersized, a typology developed by William Riker in his seminal book, The Theory of Political Coalitions. The entry explores Riker's theories in some detail. In responsive critique to Riker's and other size theories, policy-based interpretations of coalition formation emerged. This new perspective, while simple and elegant, contains many hidden assumptions and does not always result in accurate predictions.