Some MPs are very active, while others are not. The number of proposals and questions that MPs in the Netherlands put forward is determined in part by the level of activity of their fellow committee members rather than by electoral incentive, which is the case in other countries.
An understanding of MPs’ behaviour can help the electorate decide who to vote for. If politicians who are lower on the party list are less active, this does not necessarily correlate with the effort that they put in but rather to their surroundings. The research also shows that MPs do not put in an effort just to win votes but that the social norms of those around them determine their level of activity.
From Kok II to Rutte I
For the Personalised parliamentary behaviour without electoral incentives: the case of the Netherlands (2016) study, Louwerse and his fellow political scientist Simon Otjes defined the level of activity of an MP as the number of motions, amendments and parliamentary questions that the MP tables. They collated the data for each MP during the Kok II, Balkenende I to IV and Rutte I cabinets and used this to establish whether there was a relationship between the activity level of MPs and their position on the party list, their level of specialisation or the activity level of their fellow committee members.
Via een regressieanalyse achterhaalden Louwerse en Otjes welke van hun mogelijke verklaringen het
Louwerse and Otjes used regression analysis to establish which of their explanations were most plausible. The activity level of a committee proved to be contagious: the more active the members of the committee were, the more motions, amendments and questions were tabled. Louwerse: ‘Politicians appear to conform to what is customary for their party and the parliamentary committee on which they sit. A committee such as Foreign Affairs tables few motions, whereas other committees make frequent use of this tool. MPs follow what is customary for the committee.’
It was also possible to conclude from the results that specialised MPs are less active and that a higher position on the party list leads to the tabling of more motions and questions. However, list position proved to have no effect on the tabling of amendments.
The researchers had thought that the likelihood of promotion within the party could provide a further impetus for MPs to put in more effort, but the analysis did not support this. Louwerse: ‘This could be because we can’t draw a good distinction between MPs who are pursuing promotion, MPs who want to consolidate their leadership position and MPs who prefer to remain in the background. That is an interesting area for further research.’