The John M. Olin Center

Paper Abstract

615. Matthew C. Stephenson & Jide Nzelibe, Political Accountability Under Alternative Institutional Regimes, 06/2008; subsequently published in Journal of Theoretical Politics, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2010, 139-167.

Abstract: We analyze the interaction between electoral accountability and separation-of-powers as mechanisms for reducing political agency slack. We compare three stylized regimes: a “Unilateral Authority” setting in which the President has exclusive authority over some policy decision; a “Mandatory Checks and Bal-ances” regime in which the President cannot enact the policy unless Congress approves; and an “Opt-In Checks and Balances” system in which the President may seek congressional authorization, but may also act unilaterally. The analysis generates three principal insights. First, voters respond to the risk of politi-cian bias by making the political rewards and punishments for policy success or failure asymmetric. Vot-ers rely less on this instrument, however, when internal checks screen out some undesirable policies. Second, the addition of a veto player need not alter the ex ante likelihood of policy change. Third, voter welfare is highest under the Opt-In Checks regime and lowest under the Unilateral Authority regime.

615: PDF