The Impact of Presidential Campaigning for Congress on Presidential Support in the U.S. House of Representatives

Date01 February 2011
Published date01 February 2011
University of Maryland
Washington College
The Impact of Presidential
Campaigning for Congress on
Presidential Support in the
U.S. House of Representatives
Presidential inf‌luence is partly a function of the partisan, economic, and inter-
national context within whichthe president governs. Presidents are, however,more than
bystanders relying on the political milieu for policy opportunities. Recent scholarship
demonstrates that presidents consciously inf‌luence this milieu and build political
capital by campaigning for congressional candidates. Wecontribute to this literature by
assessing the effects of presidential campaigning on legislative support for two presi-
dents whogoverned under extremely dissimilar circumstances: Bill Clinton in the 106th
Congress and George W. Bush in the 108th Congress. We f‌ind evidence of campaign
effects on congressional policymaking during both administrations.lsq_599..122
I earned capital in the campaign—political capital—and now I intend
to spend it.
— President George W. Bush at a Post-2004
Election Press Conference
To pundits and politicians, “political capital” is the resource that
enables presidents to inf‌luence other political decision makers, espe-
cially members of Congress. Scholars generally focus on a president’s
popularity, measured by approval ratings, as the primary source of
political strength (Bond and Fleisher 1980, 1983, 1990; Brace and
Hinckley 1992; Edwards 1983, 1989; Kernell 1986; Rivers and Rose
1985). A variety of contextual factors—such as institutional arrange-
ments, economic circumstances, and international entanglements—
also are believed to condition a president’s political capital and its use.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1939-9162.2010.00005.x
© 2011 The Comparative Legislative Research Center of The University of Iowa
Presidents whose party holds majorities in both chambers of Congress
have more clout than those who must contend with a Congress con-
trolled by the opposing party, and presidents whose party controls
Congress with large majorities typically are better able to get their way
than others (Smith 2007; Truman 1959). Recessions, depressions, and
foreign conf‌licts also may inf‌luence presidential power.1The Great
Depression, high rates of joblessness, and World War II all boosted the
clout that President Franklin D. Roosevelt wielded in Washington, as
well as on the world stage. More recently, President George W. Bush
found his hand greatly strengthened after the attacks of September 11,
2001 and substantially weakened as the increasingly unpopularWar in
Iraq dragged on.
Research focusing on these contextual determinants of inf‌lu-
ence tends to depict presidents as bystanders in the political milieu,
but there is increasing evidence that presidents work to build their
political capital and shape the context in which it is spent. For
example, presidents may inf‌luence the institutional context in which
they govern by supporting the electoral efforts of fellow partisans.
Scholars have become increasingly attentive to the impact of presi-
dential campaign activity on behalf of congressional candidates
(Herrnson and Morris 2007; Hoddie and Routh 2004; Keele,
Fogarty, and Stimson 2004; Sellers and Denton 2006). We extend
this line of inquiry by considering whether presidents receive any
legislative benef‌its from the House candidates they helped to elect.
Our overall research question is: does presidential campaigning
result in the president garnering greater support for his agenda from
members of Congress?
We address this question using a new data set that records
presidential campaign visits on behalf of congressional candidates
and two measures of the legislative support exhibited by House
members of the president’s party in the ensuing Congress. Presiden-
tial support scores are used to provide an indication of the general-
ized legislative benef‌its, if any, presidents receive for their campaign
efforts. We rely on an alternative measure, presidential key vote
scores, to assess the impact of presidential campaigning on congres-
sional support for a chief executive’s top priorities. We isolate the
effects of presidential campaigning on congressional support by
comparing the experiences of two presidents who campaigned
for their party’s House candidates, governed under extremely dis-
similar circumstances, and pursued different legislative goals: Bill
Clinton in the 106th Congress and George W. Bush in the 108th
100 Paul S. Herrnson et al.

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