Prior Experience Predicts Presidential Performance

By Simon, Arthur M.; Uscinski, Joseph E. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Prior Experience Predicts Presidential Performance


Simon, Arthur M., Uscinski, Joseph E., Presidential Studies Quarterly


American voters hope to elect presidents who will achieve foreign and domestic success. As a result, presidential candidates frequently discuss their prior experiences eager to convince voters that, if elected, they will perform successfully. While citizens intuitively assume that "experienced" candidates make better presidents, they do not know which prior experiences help presidential candidates excel or falter once in office. (1) Even scholars are unsure what the experience qualifications are for a successful president. For example, would a president have more success if she or he had previously served as a U.S. senator or as a state governor? Would prior military experience lead to success as commander-in-chief? While voters may choose presidents largely for their policy preferences, party affiliation, or persona, all of these may amount to naught if inexperience leaves the president too inept to lead.

Unfortunately, we currently have no way of knowing which experiences benefit presidential performance, or in what ways. For example, presidency scholars often provide conflicting accounts when discussing presidents' prior experiences. Furthermore, quantitative comparisons between a president's prior experience and his in-office performance consistently find no link. In fact, the most recent analysis plainly states "there is no evidence that political experience improves the likelihood of strong presidential performance" (Balz 2010, 487).

This leaves us with a conundrum: prior experience is often associated with success, but these accounts frequently conflict. At the same time, quantitative comparisons find no correlation between experience and subsequent performance. Given the high stakes in choosing presidents, it is imperative to resolve this confusion by deriving a rationale for understanding which experiences lead presidents to success. Therefore, we develop theoretical expectations and test these by comparing presidents' prior experiences to their in-office performances.

This article proceeds as follows: we first review the prior studies comparing experience to job performance. We identify shortcomings in their designs and propose remedies for these. Then, based upon Richard Neustadt's work and findings from the organizational sciences literature, we present expectations explaining which prior experiences affect presidential performance and in what ways. We begin by comparing each measure of experience individually to each measure of presidential performance--this provides the most parsimonious method of demonstrating the effect of experience on performance. Then, to buttress this evidence, we provide models that test different measures of experience against each other and include factors commonly thought to affect presidential ratings such as the economy, war, and each president's place in history. In accord with our expectations, we find that several positions, including military and gubernatorial positions, substantively predict performance. Beyond answering a perennial question, we contribute to a greater theoretical understanding of prior experience and the presidency.

Does Experience Matter to a President?

This is a recurring question in American politics. (2) Presidential candidates frequently discuss their prior experiences in order to convince voters that they can perform successfully if elected. For example, in 1980, then-candidate Ronald Reagan highlighted his prior experience as governor in attempting to unseat Jimmy Carter:

   I have not had the experience the President has had in holding that
   office, but I think in being Governor of California, the most
   populous State in the Union--if it were a nation, it would be the
   seventh-ranking economic power in the world--I, too, had some
   lonely moments and decisions to make. I know that the economic
   program that I have proposed for this Nation in the next few years
   can resolve many of the problems that trouble us today. … 

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Prior Experience Predicts Presidential Performance
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.