Acta Politica

, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 1–19 | Cite as

Is there a presidentialization of US presidential leadership? A European perspective on Washington

  • Ludger Helms
Original Article


This article revisits the different notions and concepts of ‘presidentialization’ that have held an exceptionally prominent status in recent comparative European politics but have conspicuously failed to capture the attention of the American political science community. It then applies a slightly amended version of the influential conceptual framework suggested by Thomas Poguntke and Paul Webb to the analysis of presidential leadership in the United States to demonstrate the analytical usefulness of the concept beyond the family of parliamentary democracies. This stock-tacking exercise reveals that there are some manifestations of presidential leadership that could in fact be described as ‘presidentialization’ and others that are better characterized as ‘de-presidentialization’. Interestingly, the recent developments towards a less ‘presidentialized’ mode of politics and leadership seem to have been induced by the institutional incentives of the presidential system.


leadership presidents prime ministers presidentialization 


  1. Aberbach, J.D. and Peterson, M.A. (eds.) (2005) The Executive Branch. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Aberbach, J.D. and Rockman, B.A. (2000) In the Web of Politics: Three Decades of the US Federal Executive. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  3. Andeweg, R. (1997) Collegiality and collectivity: Cabinets, cabinet committees, and cabinet ministers. In: P. Weller, H. Bakvis and R.A.W. Rhodes (eds.) The Hollow Crown: Countervailing Trends in Core Executives. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 58–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bäck, H., Dumont, P., Meier, H.E., Persson, T. and Vernby, K. (2009) Does Europeanization lead to a ‘presidentialization’ of executive politics? Ministerial selection in Swedish postwar cabinets. European Union Politics 10 (2): 226–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bai, M. (2010) Democrat in Chief?, accessed 9 August 2013.
  6. Barisione, M. (2009) So, what difference do leaders make? Candidate’s images and the ‘conditionality’ of leaders effects on voting. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties 19 (4): 473–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barshay, J. (2002) The duel of Bush and Daschle: Men of genteel steel. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report 60 (4): 212–219.Google Scholar
  8. Baumer, D.C. and Gold, H.J. (2010) Parties, Polarization and Democracy in the United States. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.Google Scholar
  9. Bennett, A. (1996) The American President’s Cabinet: From Kennedy to Bush. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bevir, M. and Rhodes, R.A.W. (2006) Prime ministers, presidentialism and Westminster smokescreens. Political Studies 54 (4): 671–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Blackwell, K. and Klukowski, K. (2012) Obama’s Power Grabs Create an Imperial Presidency,, accessed 22 June 2013.
  12. Bose, M. (2011) President or King? Evaluating the Expansion of Executive Power from Abraham Lincoln to George W. Bush. New York: Nova Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  13. Bowles, N., King, D.S. and Ross, F. (2007) Political centralization and policy constraint in British executive leadership: Lessons from American presidential studies in the era of sofa politics. British Politics 2 (3): 372–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bucur, C. and Elgie, R. (2012) The development of the French executive: Endogenous Americanization. French Politics 10 (4): 389–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Burch, A.H. (1991) The British System of Government. 8th edn. London and Boston, MA: Unwin Wyman.Google Scholar
  16. Burke, J.P. (2000) The Institutional Presidency. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Canes-Wrone, B. and de Marchi, S. (2002) Presidential approval and legislative success. The Journal of Politics 64 (2): 491–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cillizza, C. (2013) The end of Obama’s honeymoon?, accessed 20 June 2013.
  19. Cohen, J.E. (1988) The Politics of the US Cabinet: Representation in the Executive Branch 1789–1984. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  20. Cohen, J.E. (2012) Everybody Loves a Winner: On the Mutual Causality of Presidential Approval and Success Rate in Congress. Paper for delivery at the American Politics and Public Policy Workshop, Center for the Study of American Politics: Yale University, 17 October.Google Scholar
  21. Cooper, P.J. (2005) George W. Bush, Edgar Allan Poe and the use and abuse of presidential signing statement. Presidential Studies Quarterly 35 (3): 515–535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dahlström C., Peters B.G. and Pierre J. (eds.) (2011) Steering strategies in western democracies. In: Steering from the Centre: Strengthening Political Control in Western Democracies. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, pp. 263–275.Google Scholar
  23. Dowding, K. (2012) The prime ministerialization of the British prime minister. Parliamentary Affairs, first published online 6 April,  doi:10.1093/pa/gss007.
  24. Dowding, K., Fischer, J. and Dumont, P. (2012) The duration and durability of cabinet ministers. International Political Science Review 33 (5): 505–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Durant R.F. (ed.) (2010) A heritage made our own. In: The Oxford Handbook of American Bureaucracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 3–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fabbrini, S. (2005) The semi-sovereign American Prince: The dilemma of an interdependent president in a presidential government. In: T. Pogunthe and P. Webb (eds.) The Presidentialization of Politics. A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 313–335.Google Scholar
  27. Fabbrini, S. (2011) Addomesticare il Principe: Perché i leader contano e come controllarli. Venice, Italy: Marsilio.Google Scholar
  28. Fine, J.A. and Warber, A.L. (2012) Circumventing adversity: Executive orders and divided government. Presidential Studies Quarterly 42 (2): 256–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Foley, M. (1993) The Rise of the British Presidency. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Foley, M. (2012) Prime ministerialisation and presidential analogies: A certain difference in interpretive evolution. Parliamentary Affairs, first published online 14 November,  doi:10.1093/pa/gss060.
  31. Galvin, D.J. (2010) Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Genovese, M.A. (2011) Presidential Prerogative: Imperial Power in the Age of Terrorism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Greenwald, G. (2011) Obama is gutting the core principles of the Democratic Party,, accessed 22 January 2013.
  34. Hargrove, E. (2001) The presidency and the premiership as institutions: An American perspective. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 3 (1): 49–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hart, J. (1991) President and prime minister: Convergence or divergence? Parliamentary Affairs 44 (2): 208–225.Google Scholar
  36. Hart, J. (1995) The Presidential Branch from Washington to Clinton. 2nd edn. Chatham, NY: Chatham House.Google Scholar
  37. Heffernan, R. (2005) Why the prime minister cannot be a president: Comparing institutional imperatives in Britain and America. Parliamentary Affairs 58 (1): 53–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Heffernan, R. (2012) There is No Need for the ‘-isation’: The prime minister is merely prime ministerial. Parliamentary Affairs, first published online 14 November,  doi:10.1093/pa/gss058.
  39. Helms, L. (2005a) The Presidentialisation of political leadership: British notions and German observations. The Political Quarterly 76 (3): 430–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Helms, L. (2005b) Presidents, Prime Ministers and Chancellors: Executive Leadership in Western Democracies. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Helms, L. (forthcoming) Political leadership. In: W.E. Paterson, S. Padgett and R. Zohlnhöfer (eds.) Developments in German Politics 4. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  42. Howell, W.G. (2003) Power without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jacobs, L.R. and King, D. (2012) Varieties of Obamaism: Structure; agency, and the Obama presidency. In: L.R. Jacobs, D. King (eds.) Obama at the Crossroads: Politics, Markets, and the Battle for America’s Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 3–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. James, S.C. (2009) Historical institutionalism, political development, and the presidency. In: G.C. Edwards III and W.G. Howell (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of the American Presidency. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 51–81.Google Scholar
  45. Jones, G.W. (1991) Presidentialization in a parliamentary system. In: C. Campbell and J. Wyszomirski (eds.) Executive Leadership in Anglo-American Systems. Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh University Press, pp. 111–137.Google Scholar
  46. Jones, C.O. (2005) The Presidency in a Separated System. 2nd edn. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  47. Kefford, G. (2013) The presidentialisation of Australian politics? Kevin Rudd’s leadership of the Australian Labor Party. The Australian Journal of Political Science 48 (2): 135–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kelley, A.P. and Hess, F.M. (2010) Going it alone: The politics of signing statements from Reagan to Bush II. Social Science Quarterly 91 (1): 168–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kelley, C.S., Cook Marlowe, M. and Barilleaux, R.J. (2011) President Barack Obama, unilateralist. In: A.J. Dowdle, D.C. van Raemdonck and R. Maranto (eds.) The Obama Presidency: Change and Continuity. New York: Routledge, pp. 77–90.Google Scholar
  50. Korn, D. (2010) The Presidentialization of Politics: The Power and Constraints of the Israeli Prime Minister, The Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute of Israel Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, Research Paper 2.Google Scholar
  51. Kolltveit, C. (2012) Presidentialisation in the executive sphere? Evidence from Norwegian cabinets. Scandinavian Political Studies 35 (4): 372–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Krauss, E.S. and Nyblade, B. (2005) ‘Presidentialization’ in Japan? The Prime Minister, media and elections in Japan. British Journal of Political Science 35 (2): 357–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lebo, M.J. and O’Geen, A. (2011) Presidential success rate and party government, 1953–2008. Journal of Politics 73 (3): 718–734.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lees, C. (2006) We are all comparativists now: Why and how single-country scholarship must adapt and incorporate the comparative politics approach. Comparative Political Studies 39 (9): 1084–1108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Lösche, P. (1989) Amerika in Perspektive. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.Google Scholar
  56. Mair, P. (2008) The challenge to party government. West European Politics 31 (1): 211–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Mayer, K.R. (2001) With the Stroke of a Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Mieczkowski, Y. (2013) Barack Obama’s veto power gathers dust,, accessed 20 June 2013.
  59. Milkis, S.M. and Rhodes, J.H. (2010) The President, Party politics, and constitutional development. In: L. Sandy Maisel and J.M. Berry (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of American Political Parties and Interest Groups. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 377–402.Google Scholar
  60. Milkis, S.M., Rhodes, J.H. and Charnock, E.J. (2012) What happened to post-partisanship? Barack Obama and the New American party system. Perspectives on Politics 10 (1): 57–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Moe, R.C. (2004) The President’s Cabinet: Evolution, Alternatives, and Proposals for Change. New York: Nova.Google Scholar
  62. Neustadt, R. (2001) The weakening White House. British Journal of Political Science 31 (1): 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Owens, J.E. (2011) A ‘post-partisan’ president in a partisan context. In: J.A. Thurber (ed.) Obama in Office: The First Two Years. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, pp. 105–124.Google Scholar
  64. Patterson, B.H. (2008) To Serve the President: Continuity and Innovation in the White House Staff. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  65. Peters, B.G. (2011) Governing from the centre(s): Governance challenges in the United States. In: C. Dahlström, B.G. Peters and J. Pierre (eds.) Steering from the Centre: Strengthening Political Control in Western Democracies. Toronto, Canada: Toronto University Press, pp. 123–146.Google Scholar
  66. Peters, B.G. and Helms, L. (2012) Executive leadership in comparative perspective: Politicians, bureaucrats and public governance. In: L. Helms (ed.) Comparative Political Leadership. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 25–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Pfiffner, J.P. (2011) Decision making in the Obama White House. Presidential Studies Quarterly 41 (2): 244–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Poguntke, T. (2000) The Presidentialization of Parliamentay Democracies: A Contradiction in Terms? Paper prepared for presentation at the ECPR Workshop ‘The Presidentialization of Parliamentary Democracies?’, Copenhagen, Denmark, April.Google Scholar
  69. Poguntke, T. and Webb, P. (eds.) (2005a) The Presidentialization of Politics: A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Poguntke T. and Webb P. (eds.) (2005b) The presidentialization of politics in democratic societies: A framework for analysis. In: The Presidentialization of Politics: A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Pryce, S. (1997) Presidentializing the Premiership. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rae, N.C. (2000) Clinton and the democrats: The president as party leader. In: S.E. Schier (ed.) The Postmodern Presidency: Bill Clinton’s Legacy in US Politics. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, pp. 183–200.Google Scholar
  73. Rockman, B.A. (2004) Presidential leadership in an era of party polarization – The George W. Bush presidency. In: C. Campbell and B.A. Rockman (eds.) The George W. Bush Presidency: Appraisals and Prospects. Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, pp. 319–357.Google Scholar
  74. Rose, R. (1980) Governments against sub-governments: A European perspective on Washington. In: R. Rose and E.N. Suleiman (eds.) Presidents and Prime Ministers. Washington DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, pp. 284–347.Google Scholar
  75. Rose, R. (2005) Giving direction to government in comparative perspective. In: J. Aberbach and M. Peterson (eds.) The Executive Branch. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 72–99.Google Scholar
  76. Rozell, M.J. and Whitney, G. (eds) (2010) Testing the Limits: George W. Bush and the Imperial Presidency. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  77. Rozell, M.J. and Sollenberger, M.A. (2012) Obama’s executive branch czars: The constitutional controversy and a legislative solution. Congress and the Presidency 39 (1): 74–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Rucker, P. and Eilperin, J. (2013) Obama’s second-term Cabinet to play bigger policy role,, accessed 20 June 2013.
  79. Rudalevige, A. (2012) Executive orders and presidential unilateralism. Presidential Studies Quarterly 42 (2): 138–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Samuels, D.J. and Shugart, M. (2010) Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers: How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behaviour. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Sanchez, H. (2013) Fight for control shows in votes. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report 71 (3): 132–136.Google Scholar
  82. Sartori, G. (1994) Comparative Institutional Engineering: An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes. London: Palgrave, Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Shafer, B.E. (2000) The partisan legacy: Are there any New Democrats? (And by the way, was there a Republican revolution?) In: C. Campbell and B.A. Rockman (eds.) The Clinton Legacy. New York: Chatham House Publishers, pp. 1–32.Google Scholar
  84. Sinclair, B. (2006) Party Wars: Polarization and the Politics of National Policy Making. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  85. Skocpol, T. and Jacobs, L.R. (2012) Accomplished and embattled: Understanding Obama’s presidency. Political Science Quarterly 127 (1): 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Strassel, K.A. (2012) Obama’s Imperial Presidency,, accessed 22 June 2013.
  87. Theakston, K. (2011) Gordon Brown as prime minister: Political skills and leadership style. British Politics 6 (1): 78–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. The Economist (2013) Barack Obama’s second-term strategy: The long game., accessed 9 August 2013.
  89. Theriault, J.M. (2008) Party Polarization in Congress. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Venturino, F. (2001) Presidentialization in Italian politics: The political consequences of the 1993 electoral reform. South European Society and Politics 6 (2): 27–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Warber, A.L. (2006) Executive Orders and the Modern Presidency: Legislating from the White House. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
  92. Warshaw, S.A. (1996) Powersharing: White House-Cabinet Relations in the Modern Presidency. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  93. Warshaw, S.A. (2011) The Obama cabinet: A team of rivals or pragmatic governance? In: A.J. Dowdle, D.C. van Raemdonck and R. Maranto (eds.) The Obama Presidency: Change and Continuity. New York: Routledge, pp. 51–64.Google Scholar
  94. Wattenberg, M.P. (2011) US party leaders: Exploring the meaning of candidate-centred politics. In: K. Aarts, A. Blais and H. Schmitt (eds.) Political Leaders and Democratic Elections. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 76–90.Google Scholar
  95. Webb, P. and Poguntke, T. (2012) The presidentialisation of politics theses defended. Parliamentary Affairs, first published online 14 November,  doi:10.1093/pa/gss059.
  96. Whitford, A.B. (2012) Signing statements as bargaining outcomes: Evidence from the administration of George W. Bush. Presidential Studies Quarterly 42 (2): 343–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Zeller, S. (2013) Victory from defeat. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report 71 (3): 120–126.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ludger Helms
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Political Science, University of InnsbruckInnsbruckAustria

Personalised recommendations