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date: 20 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Formal political theory involves the mathematical representation of a political domain, such as legislative decision-making. In formal modeling, only the relevant features of apolitical domain are captured. In legislative contexts those usually include: the possible outcomes of a collective choice process, decision-rules, the decision-makers, their feasible actions and respective preferences over outcomes. Almost all existing formal models of legislative decision-making fall into the rational choice theory, which assumes that any explanation of political phenomena involves rational decision-making by individuals. This article examines the three main formal methodologies used in the theory of legislatures—social choice theory, structure-induced equilibrium theory, and non-cooperative game-theory—and each methodology’s respective strengths and weaknesses. It looks at the two main subject domains where formal models of legislatures have been used: the US Congress and coalition government. It also discusses some of the attempts to integrate these two domains and create comparative formal models, describes some desirable features of a general theory of legislatures, and considers therole of formal models in institutionalist accounts of legislative politics.

Keywords: legislatures, legislative decision-making, formal models, rational choice theory, institutionalism, US Congress, coalition government, structure-induced equilibrium approach, non-cooperative game theory

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