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The Revolution in Presidential Studies


Terry M. Moe is the William Bennett Munro Professor of political science at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His work on the presidency includes The Politicized Presidency; Presidents, Institutions, and Theory; The President and the Bureaucracy: The Presidential Advantage; and, with William Howell, The Presidential Power of Unilateral Action.


In recent years, presidential studies has been transformed by a seismic shift in the scope, power, and analytical rigor of its theories. The mechanism of this revolution has been rational choice theory. In this article, I describe what has happened and offer some perspective on how the revolution came about, what it consists of, and why it is on balance a very good thing. But I also argue that, while rational choice will be the prime vehicle of theoretical progress in the near future (emphasis on “near”), it is destined to lose its dominance over the over the longer haul, both in presidential studies and in political science more generally, to competitors that are better equipped for scientific inquiry and progress—and more in keeping with the concerns of its critics.