Presidential Inflexibility and Veto Behavior: Two Individual-Situational Interactions


  • This paper was completed while the author was Visiting Research Psychologist at the Institute for Personality Assessment and Research, University of California, Berkeley

  • The computer analysis for this study was made possible by a Faculty Grant from the University of California I thank the following research assistants who made this investigation feasible John Bayless, Melisse Bouziane, Maia Chang, Ron Day, Niki De Santo, Melissa Ewen, Kari Hansen, Howard Hines, John Lucas, Rob Messerli, Lisa Rogers, Cindy Stein, Ted Sullivan, and Brent Treichler I thank, too, the anonymous reviewers who motivated substantial improvements in the original manuscript

Requests for reprints should be sent to Dean Keith Simonton, Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis CA 95616


ABSTRACT The suitable personality traits for optimal leadership may depend on the type of leadership, the criterion of leader effectiveness, and various situational constraints This point was illustrated via the specific area of presidential leadership The working relationship between the Chief Executive and Congress, as defined by regular vetoes and vetoes overturned, provided the criterion variables for a congressional time-series analysis (N= 99) of all 39 American presidents The impact of a single personality attribute, presidential inflexibility, was examined in the context of several variables suggested by past research The relation between inflexibility and willingness to exploit the regular veto varied according to the incumbent's electoral mandate, while the association between inflexibility and the propensity of Congress to override a veto depended on the extent to which the president's party controlled Congress—this last interaction was labeled the Johnson-Wilson effect In the context of the person-situation debate, these findings illustrate how certain situations can determine whether, and to what degree, a stable individual attribute will have behavioral manifestations