Public Choice

, Volume 173, Issue 3–4, pp 325–343 | Cite as

The supermajority core of the US Senate and the failure to join the League of Nations



The failure of the United States to join the League of Nations is often considered to be an outcome of isolationist influence. The supermajority requirement of treaty ratification in the US Senate also is blamed for allowing a minority of isolationists to block the will of the majority that supported the treaty. To determine the cause of the failure, I analyze the Senate debate over the treaty using the concepts of the supermajority core and supermajority winset. Using all 157 votes on the treaty, I estimate senatorial positions and the locations of both the status quo and the treaty on the same metric space. From this analysis, I find that isolationists were not influential enough to block the ratification. Instead, President Wilson’s unwillingness to compromise is found to have played a critical role in the treaty’s defeat. The treaty’s defeat thus was not an indication of the power of isolationism. This study contributes to the growing body of literature that debunks claims about the dominance of isolationism in the interwar period. At the same time, the paper demonstrates how the core and winset concepts can be useful in answering substantive collective choice questions.


Isolationism League of Nations Spatial voting model Supermajority core Agenda-constrained ideal point estimation 



I thank Arjun Chowdhury, Dominik Stecula, Editors, three anonymous reviewers, and participants at the Canadian-Comparative Workshop at the University of British Columbia for their helpful comments.

Supplementary material

11127_2017_481_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (443 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 366 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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