“The Politician’s Province” (with S. Wolton)

Abstract

Politicians, especially executives, regularly seek to project their influence into new policy domains. In some instances, they do so only after having secured the requisite statutory authority; in others, they intervene without prior authorization, hoping that their actions henceforth serve as precedent for future policy involvement. To investigate the conditions under which politicians pursue one strategy versus another, we study a stylized model of authority acquisition that recognizes the electoral pressures under which executives operate. When debates center on which office is best equipped to address a policy problem, we find, politicians intervene without prior legislative authorization. When debates turn to the ideological orientation of office-holders’ actions, by contrast, politicians who enjoy popular support secure prior authority for their office. Far from tying their opponents’ hands, as a number of literatures suggests, incumbents sometimes have electoral incentives to liberate them.

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