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  Coalitions are alliances of political rivals organized against a common foe or foes. Coalition governments are thus alliances of political parties which prefer to ally rather than compete, if only to share power. There have been coalition governments in the UK during World War I and between 1931 and 1945.

There is now a well-developed body of theory which attempts to explain the process by which coalitions form and their stability over time. It is important because coalitions are the primary form of political co-operation and decision-making among political parties, interest groups, states and international organizations.

The theoretical approach to coalitions is based on the mathematical postulates of game theory and focuses on at least four factors: (1) incentives or pay-offs which participants consider before joining a coalition; (2) the optimal size of a coalition for a given situation (should it be the minimum required to win?); (3) the shared characteristics of the participants (usually defined as shared values); and (4) the decision-making rules which the coalition will follow. Empirical tests of coalition theories applied to political parties, using computer models and laboratory simulations, support two general rules: first, coalition partners attempt to minimize the number of partners in order to increase their individual pay-offs (like access to ministries). This is called the ‘minimal winning’ rule. Second, coalitions tend to be formed between and among partners which differ least on policy questions. This is referred to as the ‘policy-distance minimization’ or ‘minimal conflict’ rule. The increasing complexity of coalition modelling to take into account factors such as variable pay-offs and variations in conditions over time have not deflected criticism from those who argue that the variability of real situations cannot be modelled adequately. However, alternative approaches based on the empirical analysis of actual coalitions rely on such a myriad of specific factors that they offer little predictive power beyond that derived from the common sense of experienced pundits. BO\'L

See also electoral systems.Further reading I. Budge and , M. Laver, Party Policy and Government Coalitions.



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