War, the Presidency, and Legislative Voting Behavior


  • We thank Gary Jacobson, Keith Krehbiel, Doug Kriner, Jeff Lewis, and Keith Poole for data used in this project. We also gratefully acknowledge John Aldrich, Michael Bailey, Matthew Beckmann, Adam Berinsky, Chris Berry, Steve Callander, Charles Cameron, Brandice Canes-Wrone, Saul Jackman, Simon Jackman, Jeff Jenkins, Thad Kousser, Keith Krehbiel, Nolan McCarty, Eric Oliver, Eric Schickler, Boris Shor, Betsy Sinclair, Rob Van Houweling, five anonymous reviewers, and participants in seminars at Berkeley, Chicago, Duke, Notre Dame, Stanford, and Texas A&M for helpful comments and suggestions. For financial support, we thank the National Science Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the Program on Political Institutions at the University of Chicago. Mateusz Tomkowiak provided capable research assistance. All replication files can be accessed through the AJPS Dataverse at http://dvn.iq.harvard.edu/dvn/dv/ajps/faces/study/StudyPage.xhtml?globalId=hdl:1902.1/18254. Supplementary appendices are available at the AJPS website.

William G. Howell is Sydney Stein Professor of American Politics, Department of Political Science, Harris School of Public Policy, 1155 E. 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637 (whowell@uchicago.edu.). Jon C. Rogowski is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1063, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130 (jrogowsk@artsci.wustl.edu).


An extraordinary body of scholarship suggests that war, perhaps more than any other contributor, is responsible for the emergence of a distinctly modern presidency. Central to this argument is a belief that members of Congress predictably and reliably line up behind the president during times of war. Few scholars, however, have actually subjected this argument to quantitative investigation. This article does so. Estimating ideal points for members of Congress at the start and end of the most significant wars in the past century, we find consistent—albeit not uniform—evidence of a wartime effect. The outbreaks of both world wars and the post-9/11 era—though not the Korean or Vietnam wars—coincided with discernible changes in member voting behavior that better reflected the ideological leanings of the presidents then in office. In the aftermath of all these wars, meanwhile, members shifted away from the sitting president’s ideological orientation. These findings are not confined to any single subset of policies, are robust to a wide variety of modeling specifications, and run contrary to scholarship that emphasizes ideological consistency in members’ voting behavior.