Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Presidential Defense: Decisions and Strategies to Preserve the Status Quo

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Presidential Defense: Decisions and Strategies to Preserve the Status Quo

Article excerpt

Dramatic policy changes capture the attention of the elec- torate. Yet the successful implementation of a long-term policy agenda also requires strategically defending the status quo against unfavorable policy changes. Indeed, the multi-veto-point design of the separation of powers system often makes the obstruction of policy change the most efficient way for political actors to control out- comes. A key finding from the presidential literature is that chief executives experience greater difficulty in gen- erating meaningful policy change when faced with unfa- vorable political environments such as a hostile legislature or low popularity (Barrett and Eshbaugh-Soha 2007; Bond and Fleisher 1990; Edwards 1989). This view, how- ever, neglects the second half of the equation-the degree to which Presidents are able to protect the status quo from unfavorable policies. Without consideration of this aspect of presidential effectiveness, the full extent of presiden- tial power remains unknown.

We propose a theory that explains when, how, and how effectively the President seeks to maintain the status quo (or "play defense") across multiple policy arenas. The theory is tested on a unique dataset of both legislative and regulatory lawmaking that allows the simultaneous track- ing of defensive strategies across legislative and bureau- cratic domains.

Presidential Success in Congress and the Bureaucracy

Three primary lines of theory explain the President's ability to control policy: the power of persuasion, the political environment, and direct influence through formal and informal authorities. Neustadt's (1960) classic examination of the President's power to persuade dominated the theo- retical landscape for thirty years. The theory suggests that the President's persuasive powers increase when the President can focus public attention on an issue, and when he is popular. Empirical examinations of Neustadt's theory applied to the President's relationship with Congress, how- ever, have generated conflicting results. On the one hand, some research finds that the effect of presidential approval on roll call voting is marginal (Bond and Fleisher 1990; Bond, Fleisher, and Wood 2003; Cohen et al. 2000; Collier and Sullivan 1995; Edwards 1989; Fleisher and Bond 2000; Mouw and MacKuen 1992). Similarly, work by Bond, Fleisher, and Wood (2003) suggests that the personal skills of Presidents do not affect their legislative success.

Other work, however, suggests that increased public approval allows the President to shape legislative actions (Barrett and Eshbaugh-Soha 2007; Brace and Hinckley 1992; Edwards 1997; Eshbaugh-Soha 2010; Ostrom and Simon 1985). Similarly, the President behaves as if pub- lic approval influences success in Congress and attempts to cultivate his approval numbers within the public (Farnsworth 2009; Heith 2013).

The President can also increase his success by more directly interacting with Congress. First, the President can influence outcomes by lobbying Congress directly. Beckmann (2008) finds that presidential lobbying influ- ences the congressional agenda and roll call votes. Second, presidential campaigning during elections on behalf of members of Congress can influence the roll call votes of members (Herrnson, Morris, andMcTague 2011).

The second line of theory suggests that presidential success depends upon the political environment. Among these political circumstances are the presence of unified or divided government (Bond and Fleisher 1990; Edwards 1989; Edwards, Barrett, and Peake 1997; Hetherington and Larson 2010) and the distribution of ideological pref- erences across Congress and the parties (Bond and Fleisher 1990). The political circumstance most likely to limit presidential success is divided government. Divided government has little impact on the President's ability to get legislation on the agenda (Edwards and Barrett 2000), but it increases the amount of significant legislation that the President opposes (Edwards, Barrett, and Peake 1997). …

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