The Contemporary Presidency: Who Wants Presidential Supremacy? Findings from the Institutions of American Democracy Project


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: We thank Darin DeWitt for skillful research assistance.

Joel D. Aberbach is a distinguished professor of political science and public policy and director of the Center for American Politics and Public Policy at UCLA. His books include Keeping a Watchful Eye and (with Bert A. Rockman) In the Web of Politics. He also coedited with Mark A. Peterson Institutions of American Democracy: The Executive Branch.

Mark A. Peterson is a professor of public policy and political science at UCLA. On the executive branch, he has authored Legislating Together, coedited with Joel D. Aberbach Institutions of American Democracy: The Executive Branch, and coauthored Institutions of American Democracy: A Republic Divided.

Paul J. Quirk is the Phil Lind Chair in U.S. Politics and Representation at the University of British Columbia. He recently coedited Institutions of American Democracy: The Legislative Branch and coauthored Deliberative Choices: Debating Public Policy in Congress.


The George W. Bush administration has aggressively advanced claims of presidential supremacy in American government. We use data from surveys to explore the reactions to these claims on the part of three groups of governmental elites and the general public. Responses are shaped by partisanship and ideology, which overwhelm institutional loyalties. Democrats are generally unified in opposing practices that expand presidential power beyond established political or constitutional limits. Republicans are more divided. Some entirely reject those practices. Yet about three quarters of Republicans in all samples endorse presidential supremacy, partially or fully. We consider the implications of the findings for possible longer-term outcomes with respect to these issues.