Congressional Institutionalization: A Cross‐National Comparison

Date01 February 2016
AuthorValeria Palanza,Mariano Tommasi,Carlos Scartascini
Published date01 February 2016
Pontif‌icia Universidad Cat
olica de Chile
Inter-American Development Bank
Universidad de San Andr
es in Argentina
Congressional Institutionalization:
A Cross-National Comparison
This article explains variations in levels of institutionalization across legislatures
of the world. It construes institutionalization as an equilibrium outcome that emerges
from beliefs and investments made by political actors. Drawing insights from work on
US congressional institutionalization and congressional organization, and on compara-
tive party system institutionalization, it provides an index to measure congressional
institutionalization. Using this index, it explores the constitutional factors that affect
levels of congressional institutionalization. The empirical results raise a warning with
respect to building comparative implications from an excessive focus on one particular
Legislatures play a key role in policymaking and hence affect
societal outcomes, yet their role varies greatly across countries. In part
determined by constitutions, the role of congresses is linked to character-
istics such as how they are organized, how much legislators work, how
professionalized legislators’ jobs become, how long legislators remain in
congress, how effective they are at their job. These traits help explain the
quality of policy emerging in different countries. We claim that distinct
conf‌igurations of specif‌ic congressional traits are indicators of levels of
congressional institutionalization and ultimately lead to different out-
comes in terms of the quality of policies.
This article provides an empirical exploration of the level of institu-
tionalization of legislatures around the world and of its determinants. In
so doing, it draws from an important literature on the institutionalization
of the US Congress and a few other legislatures, a literature on the
DOI: 10.1111/lsq.12104
C2016 Washington University in St. Louis
organization of the US Congress, and a literature on the institutionaliza-
tion of political party systems. Even as these existing theories and
empirical approaches provide useful inputs for our exploration, the arti-
cle proposes its own theoretical focus and empirical angle, which we
believe is well suited for international comparisons.
We complement prior notions of institutionalization with a game-
theoretic approach drawn from Scartascini and Tommasi (2012). A
game-theoretic equilibrium is a consistent and self-conf‌irming conf‌igura-
tion of actions and beliefs. Our notion of institutionalization views it as
the result of actions and investments that actors undertake over time.
These actions and investments, in turn, depend on what actors believe
about the beliefs and actions of other players. We claim that if Congress
is considered a key arena for the political and policymaking game, that
is, if it is considered the place where political careers are made and the
arena where the main policy negotiations and decisions take place, then
actors have the incentive to (individually and collectively) invest in Con-
gress. It turns out that these very investments contribute to turn Congress
into such a place, so that the logic is self-fulf‌illing. On the contrary, if
Congress is undervalued, most people imagine that the President (or
Prime Minister) will side-step Congress, and aspiring politicians prefer
other career moves to being a legislator, investments in Congress are not
undertaken, and its weakness is reinforced.
This article takes steps in the analysis of the factors that make
congressional institutionalization more likely. It emphasizes the role of
basic constitutional factors, as well as other institutional dynamics, which
we explain in the next section. Our results suggest that countries with the
presidential form of government, with proportional representation (PR)
electoral systems, and with bicameral legislatures, tend to present lower
levels of congressional institutionalization and that institutionalization
increases with the age of democracy. We also advance the notion that
countries with stronger congresses tend to produce better public policies.
The term is generally used to denote the process through which
social roles, particular values and norms, or modes of behavior become
embedded within organizations, social systems, or societies as estab-
lished customs or norms. According to Huntington, “it is the process by
which organizations and procedures acquire value and stability” (1968,
12). Angelo Panebianco refers to institutionalization as a process of
“consolidation of the organization, the passage from an initial, structur-
ally f‌luid phase when a new-born organization is still forming, to a phase
8 Valeria Palanza, Carlos Scartascini, and Mariano Tommasi

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