Get access

Under What Conditions Do Presidents Resort to Decree Power? Theory and Evidence from the Brazilian Case


Carlos Pereira ( is visiting professor and researcher of economics, University of São Paulo, 05508-900, São Paulo, Brazil, and associate researcher at the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, São Paulo, Brazil. Timothy J. Power ( is associate professor of political science, and president of the Brazilian Studies Association, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199. Lucio Rennó ( is Rockefeller Fellow at the Latin American and Carribean Studies Center at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and assistant professor of political science, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0158.


The emerging literature on executive decree authority has generated important insights, but it has tended to select on the dependent variable (decrees), rather than view decrees as one of several possible ways that presidents can initiate policies. This article examines the conditions under which presidents resort to extraordinary rather than ordinary means of legislative initiative. Unilateral action theory claims that presidents will resort to decrees in unfavorable political environments, while delegation theory claims that decrees will flourish when the president is more politically secure. A study of four Brazilian presidents between 1988 and 1998 yields inconsistent support for both theories. Presidential popularity is only weakly related to the use of decree authority, but executive-legislative relations—especially coalition management via multiparty cabinets—is a more reliable predictor. Neither unilateral action theory nor delegation theory can fully account for the wide variation in the legislative strategies of presidents.