Leadership and Pandering: A Theory of Executive Policymaking

Leadership and Pandering: A Theory of Executive Policymaking

By
Brandice Canes-Wrone, Michael C. Herron, Ken Shotts
American Journal of Political Science. July
2001, Vol. 45, Issue 3, Pages 532–550

We develop an informational theory that analyzes conditions under which a reelection-seeking executive will act in the public interest. The theory considers factors such as executive competence, challenger quality, and the likelihood that voters will learn the consequences of policy decisions before an upcoming election. We find that an executive who has information suggesting that a popular policy is contrary to voters’ interests may or may not pander to voters by choosing it; under certain conditions, the executive can actually increase his probability of reelection by choosing an unpopular policy that is in the public interest. However, we also show that an executive will sometimes face electoral incentives to enact a policy that is both unpopular and contrary to voters’ interests. Our theory is illustrated with examples involving President Abraham Lincoln, California Governor Earl Warren, and President Gerald Ford.