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Presidents and Patronage


  • Portions of this article were presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Toronto, Ontario and the 2010 annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL. We thank Camille Burge, Josh Clinton, Nick Gallo, John Geer, Paul Quirk, Alan Wiseman, Jack Wright, and seminar participants at Harvard University, Ohio State University, and Vanderbilt University for helpful comments. Replication data are available at and AJPS Dataverse.


To what extent do presidents select appointees based upon campaign experience and connections? The answer to this question has important implications for our understanding of presidential management and political leadership. This article presents a theory explaining where presidents place different types of appointees and why, focusing on differences in ideology, competence, and non-policy patronage benefits among potential appointees. We develop a formal model and test its implications with new data on 1,307 persons appointed in the first six months of the Obama administration. The empirical results broadly support the theory, suggesting that President Obama was more likely to place appointees selected for non-policy patronage reasons in agencies off his agenda, in agencies that shared his policy views, and where appointees are least able to affect agency performance. We conclude that patronage continues to play an important role in American politics, with important consequences for campaigns, presidential politics, and governance.