Foreign Policy Votes and Presidential Support in Congress



W.R. Mack, Karl DeRouen Jr and David Lanoue. (2011) Foreign Policy Votes and Presidential Support in Congress. Foreign Policy Analysis, doi: 10.1111/j.1743-8594.2011.00166.x

This paper explores the role of foreign policy votes on presidential support in Congress. We postulate that a selection effect is inherent in this topic. Failing to consider that certain factors will influence whether a president takes a position on an issue in the first place can yield misleading results. For instance, presidents might not take positions during lame duck years or when their popularity is low. They might be more willing to take positions on international votes, votes requiring super majorities, or those that take place during a honeymoon period. In turn, this decision regarding position-taking can bias the outcome. We also capture the relationship between Congress and public opinion in our models as it is important to consider that the Congress is listening to its constituents as well. If the public identifies international problems as the most important to the nation, Congress might be more willing to vote in favor of the president on international votes. Testing key vote data from 1953 to 2003 for each chamber, we show that presidents are more likely to take positions if the vote is international, if the public identifies the “most important problems” as international ones, and if the vote requires a super majority for passage. They are less likely to take positions if they are up for reelection and are lame ducks. In turn, international votes, the percentage of the public identifying international problems as the most important, and the size of the president’s majority have positive effects on presidential support. These findings are obscured if selection is not taken into account.