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Edwards: On deaf ears

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Edwards. On deaf ears.

In Brief

Edwards measures presidential effectiveness in Congress, and his primary objective is to evaluate presidential persuasiveness in Congress and, ultimately, presidential power. Can presidents direct change, establish their own policy goals, and mobilize governing coalitions to achieve them? To answer this question, Edwards tries to determine which contemporary presidents have been more successful with Congress and why. He uses presidential support scores to indicate the level of presidential effectiveness in Congress. However, he refines the scores and develops four separate measures of presidential support (namely, overall support, nonunanimous support, single-vote support, and key vote support). These different indices show remarkable consistency in terms of the level of support that the president received. Edwards calculates the support each member of Congress gave the president in each year from 1953 to 1986. After establishing levels of support, Edwards then attempts to explain variation among presidents.

He concludes that party and popularity have been important resources for presidential success, but legislative skills have been less significant most of the time. He cautions the reader to be wary of the conventional wisdom that a president's personal skills are the critical factor in influencing Congress.