Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 9 > Issue 3

Institutional Design and the Attribution of Presidential Control: Insulating the President from Blame

Alex I. Ruder, Department of Politics, Princeton University, USA, aruder@princeton.edu
Suggested Citation
Alex I. Ruder (2014), "Institutional Design and the Attribution of Presidential Control: Insulating the President from Blame", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 9: No. 3, pp 301-335. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00013093

Publication Date: 18 Sep 2014
© 2014 A. I. Ruder
Bureaucracy,  Regulation,  Democracy,  Electoral behavior,  Political psychology,  Presidential politics


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In this article:
1. Institutions and Attributions of Responsibility 
2. Empirical Strategy 
3. Model and Estimation Results 
4. Experimental Evidence for the Framing and Insulation Hypotheses 
5. Discussion and Conclusion 


A lack of direct electoral checks on government bureaucrats challenges norms of democratic accountability. One proposed solution is to increase the president's control over federal agencies. It is, however, an open question as to whether voters will attribute responsibility to the president even when in charge of agencies. A key empirical challenge has been that presidential control is not randomly assigned across agencies. To overcome this issue, I compare two agencies that enforce the same policy but differ in insulation from presidential control. I examine a large, unique dataset of news coverage, showing that news coverage of the presidentially-controlled agency features more politicized content that ties the agency to the president. I then demonstrate experimentally that this political content increases attribution of control to the president. The results support theories that claim agency design moderates voter attribution of responsibility to the president. This paper broadly adds to the literature on institutional design and the determinants of agency discretion.