Showing off: Promise and peril in unilateral policymaking

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10 Scopus citations


Presidents have substantial unilateral policymaking powers in the United States despite constitutional provisions for checks and balances. I study how electoral concerns encourage o ceholders to exercise these powers, using a formal model in which unilateral policymaking skill varies across off ceholders and is unknown to voters. Undesirable unilateral action is unavoidable in equilibrium under broad conditions. This perverse behavior occurs when the incumbent acts unilaterally to show o policymaking skill even though unilateral action is inferior policy. Showing off is driven by electoral motivations and occurs because unilateral action is important for re-election. I also characterize conditions under which the incumbent acts unilaterally in equilibrium if and only if it improves voter welfare.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-268
Number of pages28
JournalQuarterly Journal of Political Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Electoral accountability
  • Political economy
  • Presidency
  • Unilateral policymaking


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