Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 16 > Issue 4

Contemporary U.S. Policymaking

David P. Baron, Graduate School of Business, 655 Knight Way, Stanford University, USA, dbaron@stanford.edu
Suggested Citation
David P. Baron (2021), "Contemporary U.S. Policymaking", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 16: No. 4, pp 429-465. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00019221

Publication Date: 18 Oct 2021
© 2021 D. P. Baron
Executive politics,  Formal modelling,  Lawmaking,  Legislatures
Polarizationexecutive actionbargaining failure


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In this article:
Executive Actions 
Judicial Review 
The Model 
Policy Bargaining 
The Executive Action 
Comparative Statics of the Legislative Proposal 
Why so Few Legislative Bargains with Divided Government? 
Elections and the Electoral Prize 
Policy Analysis 
Appendix A 
A General Model 
Appendix B 
Bargaining with Party L 
Bargaining with a Strong Party 
Bargaining with a Less Strong Party 
Appendix C 
Selection of a Bargaining Partner 
Appendix D 
Executive Action with Endogenous Judicial Probabilities 


This paper presents a model with a legislature, courts, and an executive that can take unilateral action. The legislature is polarized, and when government is divided, parties or factions bargain over legislation, understanding that failure can result in executive action. The theory characterizes legislative bargains, identifies which party factions bargain, and presents comparative statics. Executive action represents a threat to the opposition party, and policies are more favorable to the executive the stronger is the threat. The opposition can attempt to block the executive action in the courts, and the higher the probability of success the weaker the threat is. The theory predicts that bargains are stuck, but during the divided government years of the Obama and Trump administrations no major legislation was enacted. Bargaining failure is explained in the theory by ideological hatred resulting from increased polarization in Congress and by party competition for the electoral prize of unified government. Failure results in rejection of legislative proposals or immediate executive action. The theory is applied to the cases of nationwide injunctions, Obamacare, DACA, and WOTUS (Waters of the United States), that are either currently or likely to be before the Supreme Court.