Get access

Circumventing Adversity: Executive Orders and Divided Government


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: The authors would like to thank Rick Waterman, Mac Avery, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Jeffrey A. Fine is an assistant professor of political science at Clemson University. He has published articles in the Journal of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, and Political Behavior.

Adam L. Warber is an associate professor of political science at Clemson University. He is the author of Executive Orders and the Modern Presidency, and his main research interests are the administrative presidency and the unilateral presidency.


Scholars of the unilateral presidency are left with an empirical puzzle regarding whether and how divided government influences presidential use of executive orders. While the strategic model suggests that presidents should issue more executive orders when faced with an adverse situation vis-à-vis Congress, most of the research finds just the opposite. We offer a more appropriate test of the strategic model by examining how presidential-congressional adversity influences presidential decisions to issue symbolic, routine, and major policy executive orders. We find support for the strategic model and present new findings to demonstrate that presidents behave differently with respect to distinct types of executive orders during periods of unified and divided government.