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Stephen D. Ansolabehere & Jon C. Rogowski, Unilateral Action and Presidential Accountability, 50 Presidential Stud. Q. 129 (2020).

Abstract: How do constituents respond to the president’s policy decisions? Theories of democratic accountability posit that voters elect officeholders to advance their policy preferences and punish them for failing to do so. We investigate the accountability mechanism in the context of presidential unilateral action. Data from the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study provide evidence of issue-based presidential accountability, as presidential approval ratings are consistently associated with respondents’ evaluations of policies achieved through unilateral action. These findings persist when accounting for respondents’ partisan and ideological congruence with the president and across model specifications and measurement strategies. Our evidence indicates that presidents are held accountable for unilateral directives and, in the aggregate, suggests a constraint on presidential action.