Shades of grey : constituencies, electoral incentives, and the president's legislative agenda

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Hickey, Patrick T.

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This dissertation investigates how presidents build successful legislative coalitions and enact their agenda into law in the United States Congress. It argues that constituencies and electoral incentives cause members of Congress to respond to the president’s agenda in a systematic manner. The president’s strength in members’ constituencies interacts with members’ electoral incentives to determine whether members will vote for or against the president. The theoretical claims presented in this dissertation are supported by a combination of case studies and quantitative analysis. The empirical analysis utilizes a dataset with observations for every member of Congress from 1957 to the present. I find that constituency-level presidential strength causes systematic variance in members’ response to the president’s agenda. Vulnerable members of Congress are particularly sensitive to the president’s strength in their constituencies, while safe members of Congress are a bit less attentive to their constituencies. These findings contribute to our understanding of American politics by showing that the president’s ability to enact agenda items into law is affected by much more than mere party politics. This conclusion is especially relevant in the modern, polarized era in American politics.




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