In search of successful reform: the politics of opposition and consensus in OECD parliamentary democracies

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Why are some governments able to undertake controversial policy reforms and others are not? Conventional wisdom argues that single-party majority governments are best able to implement reforms because there are fewer veto actors within the government that can block the reforms. However, these accounts fail to consider the veto power of societal actors and particularly of trade unions, which can stall reform even in the presence of a unified executive. This paper argues that controversial reforms require broad societal and, consequently, political consensus, which are easier to achieve under minority governments or governments of broad coalitions. Evidence from 22 OECD parliamentary democracies over 35 years shows that minority and large coalition governments have been more successful in reducing social security contributions and pensions than narrower majority governments. This is especially true in countries where trade unions are militant and often resort to industrial action.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)704-725
Number of pages22
JournalWest European Politics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • OECD countries
  • parliamentary democracies
  • political reform
  • trade unions

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