Gendered Opportunities and Constraints: How Executive Sex and Approval Influence Executive Decree Issuance

Published date01 September 2018
Date01 September 2018
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-1827ky36r84WU3/input 750279PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917750279Political Research QuarterlyShair-Rosenfield and Stoyan
Political Research Quarterly
2018, Vol. 71(3) 586 –599
Gendered Opportunities and Constraints: © 2018 University of Utah
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How Executive Sex and Approval
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917750279
Influence Executive Decree Issuance
Sarah Shair-Rosenfield1 and Alissandra T. Stoyan2
Do female executives exercise the authority of their office distinctly from their male counterparts? Anecdotal evidence
suggests women legislators are likely to govern in a more consensual manner than men. Yet there has been little
systematic research extending such claims to women in executive office. Using an original data set, we evaluate one
aspect of policy agenda setting—rates of executive decree issuance—among four male–female pairs of Latin American
presidents between 2000 and 2014. Female presidents are generally less prone to rule by decree, but this relationship
is conditioned by presidential popularity. Female executives with high presidential approval ratings are less likely to rule
via unilateral action than similarly popular male executives, but the gendered differences in decree issuance disappear
when executives possess low approval ratings. Our findings have implications for understanding the potential benefits
of feminine leadership styles for executive–legislative relations and good governance.
women and politics, presidents and executive politics, decrees, presidential approval, Latin America
“What I find is with all due deference to our male colleagues,
that leadership studies confirm the description of female
that women’s styles tend to be more collaborative.”
behaviors and qualities offered above by Senator Collins
—Susan Collins, Republican Senator from Maine, 113th U.S.
(Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt 2001; Eagly and Johnson
1990), women often face the contradiction of needing to
prove their multifaceted or masculine attributes to obtain
There is evidence that the characteristics and preferences
and retain leadership positions (e.g., Thomas and Adams
of different leaders may lead to distinct styles of gover-
2010). Women may also have traditionally faced institu-
nance that increase the possibility for problem solving via
tional and partisan constraints that led them to rely on
negotiations and consensus-building among elites. Several
more communal approaches to pursue their policy prefer-
such characteristics are commonly associated with ences (e.g., Barnes 2016). The incongruity in roles that
women, where studies have found them to display more
women must display to achieve and survive in leadership
communal and democratic tendencies while men are more
positions begs the question of whether they wield their
inclined to autocratic styles of leadership. The literature
authority in distinct ways than their male counterparts.
on gendered decision-making in politics has typically
Although male and female candidates and leaders are
focused on the legislative branch or subnational offices, as
often portrayed as having different campaign styles and
female national executives remain far rarer. Yet studying
policy preferences, there has been limited systematic
outcomes associated with higher proportions of female
assessment of women’s methods of commanding power
legislators may obscure the motives and decision-making
and resources once they reach a country’s highest office.
of individuals behind those of the collective (e.g. commit-
In light of the increasing complexity of influences and
tees, parties, etc.). In comparison, the executive has fewer
opportunities to publicly demonstrate collective behavior,
1Arizona State University, Tempe, USA
so we might expect less evidence of cross-partisan or
2Kansas State University, Manhattan, USA
communal decision-making by female executives.
Thus far, relatively little is known about the trends that
Corresponding Author:
Sarah Shair-Rosenfield, School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona
might characterize female executives’ administrations or
State University, P.O. Box 873902, Tempe, AZ 85287-3902, USA.
differentiate them from male executives. Despite the fact

Shair-Rosenfield and Stoyan
expectations faced by female leaders, what political fac-
inter-branch checks and balances (e.g., Cox and
tors might generate gendered opportunities or constraints
Morgenstern 2001; Deering and Maltzman 1999; Shugart
for women in the highest political office? Do female
and Mainwaring 1997). This literature largely concludes
executives exercise their authority differently than their
that many presidents lean heavily on the strength of their
male counterparts?
office and are often enabled to do so through constitu-
To answer this question, we focus on the relationship
tional and/or de facto channels. Presidents typically have
between gendered leadership style and use of authority
greater personnel and fiscal resources to pursue their
under different levels of presidential popularity. agendas and they do not face the collective action prob-
Controlling for executive approval, do female executives
lems plaguing weakly resourced and unprofessional leg-
issue the same numbers of decrees as their male predeces-
islatures (Jones et al. 2002; Pereira, Power, and Rennó
sors? If not, this may indicate a divergence in governing
2005). Many executives possess a range of formal pow-
styles. For example, women may be more likely to use
ers, including executive decrees and orders, veto powers,
democratic (negotiated) tactics and exercise self-restraint
control over bureaucratic and government appointment,
in the use of their power, such as working through stan-
and provisional budgetary powers (Alemán and Tsebelis
dard legislative policymaking channels rather than legis-
2005; Carey and Shugart 1998; Morgenstern, Polga-
lating unilaterally “from on high.” This inclination need
Hecimovich, and Shair-Rosenfield 2013; Negretto 2004).
not stem from purely inherent preferences for negotiation
Of these powers, one key area where the executive often
and consensual outcomes but may also reflect a strategic
wields unilateral authority is in the use of executive
calculation that women leaders make: they may perceive
decrees and orders because such actions enable execu-
that they will face negative consequences for straying
tives to set the policy agenda, augmenting or substituting
from displays of more stereotypically feminine (e.g.,
for the ability to directly insert herself or himself into the
communal) behavior. This insight may extend the effect
legislating process. We focus on such actions, under-
of gendered leadership styles to more general achieve-
standing them as one form of executive authority.
ments in governability, regime stability, and successful
The literature is divided on how to interpret the obser-
policymaking efforts that might result from negotiation
vation of decree issuance. Proponents of unilateral action
and cross-partisan solutions.
theory assume that decrees will be used by executives
To test our expectations about how female executives
who cannot otherwise pass their legislative agenda, such
wield their considerable authority, we draw on an original
as those facing a hostile congress (Cox and Morgenstern
data set of executive decree issuance in paired compari-
2001; Moe and Howell 1999). Another perspective, del-
sons of male and female executives in Argentina, Brazil,
egation theory, assumes that legislatures give executives
Chile, and Costa Rica between 2000 and 2014. Utilizing
the prerogative to govern on their behalf because parti-
these within-country pairs, this is the first study to isolate
sanship and congressional hostility permit and encourage
the effects of executive sex from other factors that might
such unilateral action when it serves to benefit legislators
otherwise explain differences across administrations. The
(Carey and Shugart 1998, 296; Epstein and O’Halloran
results show distinct trends in the propensity of male and
1999). Yet the empirical record in support of these theo-
female executives to issue decrees, and that men and
ries remains mixed (e.g., Mayer 1999; Pereira, Power,
women exercise this authority most differently when they
and Rennó 2005), and the findings from recent studies
possess higher executive approval ratings that might oth-
instead highlight a general belief that presidents are more
erwise enable them to act unilaterally. In other words,
likely to use their decree authority when they anticipate
even when they are very popular, the female presidents in
fewer challenges from the legislature (Bolton and
our sample are less likely to use decree power than their
Thrower 2016; Shair-Rosenfield and Stoyan 2017).
male counterparts. Perhaps most significantly, this model
Studies on executive behavior in the United States and
of enabled or constrained presidential action has wide-
Latin America have shed light on how public opinion can
ranging implications beyond the study of gender and
also contribute to the executive’s control over the policy
politics, toward a better understanding of executive poli-
agenda vis-à-vis the legislature. Presidents may...

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