Measuring Legislative Power: An Expert Reweighting of the Fish‐Kroenig Parliamentary Powers Index

AuthorSvitlana Chernykh,David Doyle,Timothy J. Power
Date01 May 2017
Published date01 May 2017
Australian National University
University of Oxford
Measuring Legislative Power:
An Expert Reweighting of the
Fish-Kroenig Parliamentary
Powers Index
The Parliamentary Powers Index (PPI) developed by Fish and Kroenig (2009) is
the most important effort to date to measure legislative power in cross-national perspec-
tive, but it has been criticized on both theoretical and methodological grounds. We build
on the 32-item PPI to develop an alternative indicator of legislative strength that is based
on an expert survey of 296 political scientists in 2014. We reweight each of the powers
by expert opinion, creating a new Weighted Legislative Powers Score (WLPS) for the
158 national legislatures in the Fish and Kroenig data set. In addition, the article reports
the expert-assigned weight factors for the entire set of 32 powers contained in the
original PPI, thus allowing researchers to innovate alternative, disaggregated indicators
of legislative power.
How should we measure the power of legislative bodies? Surpris-
ingly, only in recent years has this question become central to
comparative legislative studies. Beginning in the mid-1990s, there was
an explosion in the production of cross-national political variables of all
types, including new indicators of presidential power, party system insti-
tutionalization, electoral system design, constitutional isomorphism,
cabinet stability, judicial independence, and the like.
enough, legislative power was not initially a concern of this measure-
ment revolution. Empirically, the executive-centric nature of numerous
third-wave democracies and the classif‌ication of many new legislatures
as “reactive” seemed to downgrade their relevance. Theoretically, many
studies seemed to assume that the power of the assembly could be
inferred from the power of other institutions (for example, as the comple-
ment of presidential power in the context of executive-legislative
DOI: 10.1111/lsq.12154
C2016 Washington University in St. Louis
relations) or could be adequately captured by looking to nonlegislative
elements of formal institutional design (for example, via assumptions
about legislative behavior based on electoral system incentives). Little
attention was given to direct measurement of powers specif‌ic to elected
This scenario changed in 2009 with the publication of Steven Fish
and Matthew Kroenig’s Handbook of National Legislatures. Relying on
a major expert survey using country specialists, Fish and Kroenig were
able to generate a measure of legislative power for 158 countries circa
2005. This indicator, known as the Parliamentary Powers Index (PPI),
essentially counts the presence or absence, in each country case, of 32
investigator-def‌ined attributes (“powers”) of legislative assemblies. Fish
and Kroenig’s work is by far the most ambitious effort to date to quantify
the power of legislative bodies and is a praiseworthy achievement by
any standard. However, some early reviewers of the indicator (e.g.,
Desposato 2012) have raised serious conceptual and methodological
objections to the PPI. Although several of these criticisms have been
thoughtfully rebutted by the original investigators (Fish and Kroenig
2012), some fundamental issues remain, and these recommend some
theoretical and operational adjustments to their original measurement of
legislative power.
In this article, we build on Fish and Kroenig’s excellent data-
collection efforts. We report the results of our own expert survey,
conducted in 2014, in which political scientists were asked to evaluate
the importance of the 32 researcher-def‌ined powers included in the PPI.
This allows us to reweight the component variables in the indicator, gen-
erating more nuanced distinctions about what is more or less important
with regard to the substantive content of legislative power. With these
new weighted measures of legislative power, we can reconstruct the PPI.
What our new indicator demonstrates is that while scholars do strongly
disagree with Fish and Kroenig’s original decision to weight each legis-
lative power equally, this has few practical implications for cross-
national measurement of legislative power. Our reweighted index is
highly correlated with the original PPI. This is good news for scholars of
legislative studies as we demonstrate that a widely adopted index in the
subdiscipline can be used robustly in cross-sectional research designs.
The article proceeds as follows. First, we review the main
criticisms applied to the PPI and propose some concrete solutions.
Second, we describe the methodology used in our own expert survey of
2014, which rewarded us with the input of 296 colleagues. Third, we
report our empirical results. We illustrate the expert upweighting or
downweighting of the 32 constituent variables posed by Fish and
296 Svitlana Chernykh, David Doyle, and Timothy J. Power

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