Unilateral Presidential Policy Making and the Impact of Crises


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I thank my research assistants Arden S. Holderby, Evan Sosbe, and Walter Schostak for the numerous hours they spent helping collect and organize the data for this project.


Scholars interested in the power of the presidency often overlook the importance of a crisis. The right kind of event, however, has characteristics that create a window of opportunity for a president to exert or expand his unilateral power. Failure to explore this relationship leaves a gap in our knowledge regarding presidential power, which this article addresses. The results show foreign policy crises provide the largest window for a president to increase his authority. Economic crises and most natural disasters have little to no impact on unilateral power. Epidemic outbreaks are the exception, though compared to a foreign policy crisis, the impact is relatively small. Finally, the findings suggest a president suffering from institutional constraints or lacking in skill and will has the ability to increase his power whenever a foreign policy crisis occurs.