Constituency focus under times of crisis. An instrument to escape party discipline? An examination of the Greek case

Yani Kartalis, University of Lisbon

Abstract

Scholarship in legislative studies has long claimed that individual legislators face tensions from their two competing principals: their party and their constituents. Assuming that their aim is to get re-elected, a recent stream of studies claims that they utilize constituency focus in their parliamentary activities in order to mitigate these tensions. Especially in party-constrained legislative environments this is a very useful strategy for vote-seeking MPs. However, during times of severe economic crisis like the recent Eurozone Crisis, party discipline increased severely within parliaments. How did legislators respond to these new conditions? We lack substantive empirical knowledge about how conditions of economic crisis affect constituency focus. Do MPs shift their foci of representation towards their constituencies even more during times of economic strain and conditionality? Or do economic difficulties make it harder to do so in light of increased party discipline? This paper tries to shed light on this puzzle by analyzing an original dataset of parliamentary questions from the Greek parliament. Greece is a very informative case since not only is the country most severely hit by the recent Eurozone Crisis but it also offers an institutional setting that provides plenty of incentives for constituency-focused representative work. The data utilized cover an extended period of six Greek legislatures and over 12000 parliamentary current questions asked pre, during and post Crisis between 2006 and 2019. Findings show that crisis conditions explain the levels of constituency representation but not in the expected direction.