The Extent of Intent

Since the fall conference I have changed my approach and my research question slightly. My paper now examines the question: to what extent do Presidents follow through on their policy and legislative intentions using delegated unilateral actions when it comes to alternative energy issues? I begin by analyzing the different bedrock theories of Presidential power and influence, the importance of delegated unilateral actions and presidential rhetoric, and provide an overview of alternative energy history in the United States in my literature review.  Then I test my hypothesis, that an increase in the mentions of alternative energy in State of the Union Speeches will result in an increase in delegated unilateral actions related to alternative energy by the President, all else being equal, by using a quantitative analysis (a multivariate OLS regression model).

One book that really impacted the course of my research was Kenneth Mayer’s With the Stroke of a Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power (2001).  Before reading this book, what I knew about presidential power came from Neustadt’s work Presidential Power (1960), where he examines the importance of the more informal skills presidents must have to be successful. Neustadt argues that President’s formal powers, or commands are not sufficient to ensure that the President can exert influence over policy.  Instead, he asserts that for presidents to be successful influencers, they must rely on bargaining and persuasion techniques to achieve their policy goals. After reading Mayer’s work, I found that he challenged some of Neustadt’s claims. He focused instead on the formal powers (i.e., the unilateral actions of the president). Mayer asserts in this book that presidential unilateral actions are equally as important as the persuading and bargaining tools used by presidents, and should therefore be studied independently as well. This book influenced me so much that I decided to change my research design entirely. During the fall conference I spoke about how I would use the budget passed by congress to try to measure the success of presidential power. After reading Mayer’s work, I decided it would be far more interesting to try to find a way to actually measure the unilateral actions of presidents and compare that to their words—essentially how well do presidents directly follow through on their promises to the American public? While the budget might be a great indication of the effect of President’s informal bargaining and persuasion powers, it excludes a very important part of the picture: the formal commands of Presidents. It does not take into account the influence Presidents have over policy directly, and because of that, it leaves out a major piece of the puzzle. Further, because I was determined to try to find overall trends (spanning years and administrations), doing this using informal actions would be incredibly difficult. It would have been more manageable if I wanted to produce a case study, but since I wanted to find trends and produce a quantitative analysis, I realized my research design needed to change. Mayer’s work influenced me to think about these direct actions as a metric for presidential follow-through. Presidents have a great ability to influence legislation quite directly through executive orders, proclamations, and Presidential Memoranda, and if a President is truly serious about following through directly with his rhetoric, one should see some type of relationship between the rhetoric and the direct actions taken.

I have not yet finished coding the Presidential Proclamations or the Presidential Memoranda, which is why they are excluded from my analysis in my first draft. For the final draft, all three (Executive orders, Presidential Memoranda, and Presidential Proclamations) will be combined into one independent variable that is Unilateral Presidential Action. Regardless, I wanted to run this preliminary regression to see if there was any relationship thus far, even though I am missing data. And I found that there was a positive relationship between the number of delegated unilateral actions related to alternative energy and the number of mentions of alternative energy in State of the Union Addresses.

I hope that once I add the Presidential Memoranda and Proclamations, this relationship will be stronger. The one area in which I am struggling is the conclusion of my paper. While it is really exciting to find that a positive relationship exists, I am having trouble understanding its implications.  I would really appreciate discussing this further at the spring conference. I think feedback on the implications of my research is really important, especially since it will help me to gain other perspectives and strengthen the quality of my research and analysis.

-Eva Schneider (Barnard College)

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