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The Most Unkindest Cuts: Speaker Selection and Expressed Government Dissent during Economic Crisis

Economic crisis and the resulting need for austerity budgets have divided many governing parties and coalitions in Europe despite strong party discipline in the legislative voting on these harsh budgets. We measure these divisions using automated text analysis methods to scale the positions that legislators express in budget debates in an effort to avoid punishment by voters for supporting austerity measures while still adhering to strict party discipline by voting along party lines. Our test case is Ireland, a country that has experienced periods of rapid economic growth as well as one deep financial and economic crisis. Tracking dissent from 1987 to 2013, we show that austerity measures undermine government cohesion as verbal opposition markedly increases in direct response to the economic pain felt in a legislator’s constituency. The economic vulnerability of a legislator’s constituency also directly explains position taking on austerity budgets among both government and opposition.