Gubernatorial Veto Powers and the Size of Legislative Coalitions

Published date01 November 2015
AuthorJon C. Rogowski,Josh M. Ryan,Robert J. McGrath
Date01 November 2015
George Mason University
Washington University in St. Louis
Utah State University
Gubernatorial Veto Powers and
the Size of Legislative Coalitions
Few political institutions are as central to theories of lawmaking as the executive
veto. Despite its importance, institutional continuity at the national level has precluded
identification of empirical effects of the veto on legislative behavior. We address this
limitation and present evidence from the states demonstrating how the veto affects the
formation of legislative coalitions and, indirectly, executive influence over policymak-
ing. We find consistent evidence that the presence and strength of gubernatorial veto
powers affect the lawmaking behavior of state legislatures. Our analysis shows how
institutional provisions condition executives’ ability to affect policy outcomes in
separation-of-powers systems.
Following Alexander Hamilton’s insistence in Federalist 73 that
the presidential veto would guard against the tendency of the legislature
to “invade the rights of the executive,” the veto is the key mechanism
supporting policy bargaining between the president and Congress
(Cameron 2000; McCarty 2000). Veto power helps presidents and gov-
ernors extract policy concessions from their legislatures by providing a
constraint on the enactment of legislation.
The framers of the federal Constitution had a keen intuition for
how their specif‌ic grant of veto power (with a two-thirds override
requirement, per Article 1, Section 7 of the US Constitution) would
empower the president. Likewise, architects of state constitutions f‌irst
clashed over the mere existence of the veto, then came to different and
varying provisions of veto power than that given to the president. These
practitioners of institutional design had different preferences regarding
the balance of power between the branches and used veto rules to solid-
ify these preferences. Recent research in political science (e.g., Brady
and Volden 1998; Krehbiel 1998) has systematized the intuitions of these
DOI: 10.1111 /lsq.12089
C2015 The Comparative Legislative Research Center of The University of Iowa
early institutionalists. We build on this work and argue that veto override
requirements structure the incentives for legislatures to build coalitions
of particular sizes. In particular, when legislatures and executives dis-
agree, larger override requirements mandate legislatures to assemble
larger coalitions so that they can enact policy over a potential veto.
Obviously, such claims are impossible to assess at the federal level,
as the veto has been available to all presidents, and the number of legisla-
tors necessary to override a veto has remained constant across American
history (Cameron 2009).
Yet, override requirements do vary across the
US states, providing a set of institutional contexts in which to study how
the particulars of the executive veto can affect the nature of lawmaking.
We thus contribute to a growing literature that uses variation across and
within the states to examine how institutional design and sources of
gubernatorial inf‌luence affect important political outcomes (e.g., Alt and
Lowry 1994; Gordon and Huber 2007; Huber and Shipan 2002; Lax and
Phillips 2009, 2012; Wright and Schaffner 2002). In particular, we argue
that the veto affords gubernatorial power insofar as it advantages super-
majoritarian pivots in state legislatures that may be more amenable to the
governor’s preferences than the median. Without the veto, simple
majority-sized coalitions would be able to pass policy over the objec-
tions of a relatively toothless governor. Furthermore, more onerous
supermajoritarian requirements should increase legislative coalition sizes
and thus the potential for gubernatorial inf‌luence.
We assess this basic argument with two complementary analyses.
First, we examine the introduction of the veto in North Carolina in 1997
as a quantitative case study of how the existence of the veto can affect
coalition sizes. Comparing voting patterns in the 1995–1996 General
Assembly to those in the 1997–1998 session, we f‌ind that legislative
coalitions were larger in both the upper and lower chambers upon the
introduction of the veto. Second, leveraging cross-sectional variation in
states’ veto override requirements, we examine how the nature of these
requirements affects the size of legislative coalitions in state chambers
during the 1999–2000 session. We f‌ind that legislative coalitions are
larger in states with greater override requirements. We conclude by dis-
cussing the implications of our f‌indings for interbranch bargaining and
executive power, stressing the connection between coalition sizes and
lawmaking across the states.
Our f‌indings shed light on why reformers of state institutions are
increasingly interested in the balances of power between state executives
and legislatures. In just the past two years, Alabama has considered
increasing its veto override threshold,
and Illinois reformers (including
the Republican candidate for governor) qualif‌ied a constitutional
572 Robert J. McGrath, Jon C. Rogowski, and Josh M. Ryan

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