ABSTRACT: We propose theoretically that the government partisan effect on institutional welfare state reforms is significantly stronger than on policy reforms. Policy reforms impose losses or gains on electoral sub-constituencies and therefore are driven by an electoral logic. Institutional reforms redistribute institutional power resources between political actors, but are inconsequential for voters in the short run. Without clear electoral repercussions, partisan governments are relatively free to seek long-term policy goals through institutional re-arrangements. We evaluate these propositions in a cross-country comparative analysis of all major policy and institutional reforms in labour market policy in Sweden, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands in the period between 1982 and 2011. We find the expected pattern of especially strong partisan effects in institutional welfare state reforms.