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Does Public Opinion Constrain Presidential Unilateralism?

  • DINO P. CHRISTENSON (a1) and DOUGLAS L. KRINER (a2)

Abstract

Whether presidential unilateralism is normatively advantageous or parlous for American democracy may depend on the extent to which a check remains on its exercise and abuse. Because the formal institutional constraints on unilateral action are weak, an emerging literature argues that the most important checks on unilateralism may be political, with public opinion playing a pivotal role. However, existing scholarship offers little systematic evidence that public opinion constrains unilateral action. To fill this gap, we use vector autoregression with Granger-causality tests to examine the relationship between presidential approval and executive orders. Contra past speculation that presidents increasingly issue executive orders as a last resort when their stock of political capital is low, we find that rising approval ratings increase the frequency of major unilateral action. Low approval ratings, by contrast, limit the exercise of unilateral power.

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Corresponding author

*Dino P. Christenson, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Boston University, dinopc@bu.edu.
Douglas L. Kriner, Professor, Department of Government, Cornell University, kriner@cornell.edu.

Footnotes

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We would like to thank Will Howell, Fang-Yi Chiou, and Lawrence Rothenberg for sharing their respective data, as well as Neal Beck, Chris Dawes, Jonathan Nagler, Julia Payson, Mona Vakilifathi, and Hye Young You, as well as seminar participants at NYU, Rochester, Clemson, and South Carolina for comments. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/UHUK4P.

Footnotes

References

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Does Public Opinion Constrain Presidential Unilateralism?

  • DINO P. CHRISTENSON (a1) and DOUGLAS L. KRINER (a2)

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