Why Change a Winning Team? Explaining Post-Election Cabinet Reshuffles in Westminster Democracies
8 November 2021
Incumbent prime ministers who win re-election often reshuffle their cabinet ministers. These post-election cabinet reshuffles have important implications for policymaking and present a puzzle: why would prime ministers alter the ‘winning team’?
Existing literature has largely overlooked post-election reshuffles, so offers few compelling answers. At most, a plausible but under-theorised and untested conventional wisdom suggests that electoral success increases prime ministers’ authority over their ministers. This article thus provides the first systematic study of post-election cabinet reshuffles in single-party governments. It argues that re-elected prime ministers use a temporary increase in their authority to pre-empt future leadership challenges by moving or sacking cabinet rivals. Larger election victories should thus produce larger reshuffles. However, analysis of post-election cabinet reshuffles in four ‘Westminster’ democracies since 1945 shows no support for this expectation, suggesting that further work is needed to understand these important political events.
Author: Thomas Flemming