No-Confidence Motions as Electoral Signals: A theory with application to the Japanese Diet

Jeffrey Lazarus, Mikitaka Masuyama, and Benjamin Nyblade

Prepared for delivery at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, D.C., September 1-4, 2005.


Why do opposition parties propose votes of no-confidence they know will not pass? Although there is an extensive literature on the confidence relationship between parliament and the executive, it tends to focus solely on the vote of no-confidence as a mechanism for the parliamentary majority to control the executive. This paper considers how the parliamentary opposition may use no-confidence motions as a tool even in the absence of any likelihood that the motion will pass. We suggest that in addition to the role it plays in legislative-executive relations, the opposition may also use no-confidence votes for electoral purposes, using the motion as part of a strategy in signaling to rational voters. We develop a formal model of this opposition signaling, from which we derive several predictions that we test using data from Japan. Consistent with our model, we find that the timing of no-confidence votes in Japan is clearly related to electoral concerns. No-confidence motions are more likely when ruling party popularity is low and declining, as elections draw nearer, and when government legislative action is high.