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Political Theater or Bargaining Failure: Why Presidents Veto


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to acknowledge the helpful comments and suggestions I received from Larry Evans, Steve Smith, David Lewis, and Nolan McCarty.

John B. Gilmour is the Paul Verkuil Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Government at the College of William & Mary.


This article tests two competing explanations of presidential vetoes—sequential veto bargaining (SVB) and blame game politics. According to the SVB model, vetoes are the result of uncertainty about the president's true preferences on legislation. According to the blame game model, vetoes result because Congress deliberately passes bills the president will veto as a means of communicating relative positions to outside audiences. This article implements a test of whether a veto was expected at the time a bill achieved final passage, reasoning that if a bill was seen as sure to be vetoed at the time of passage, the veto could not be the product of SVB. The evidence points toward blame game politics as a far more important cause of vetoes than SVB.