USC Studies Ideology of Presidential Cabinets
As coverage of the 2012 presidential race gains steam, so begins the hypothesizing: What would a Mitt Romney administration look like? Would a second term for Barack Obama mean a cabinet shakeup?
While conventional political wisdom holds that presidents surround themselves with allies who are in lockstep with their political beliefs, a new USC study shows the opposite more often is true.
Relying on millions of pages of congressional testimony, the USC study showed that 85 percent of cabinet members in the Bill Clinton administration had ideologies that diverged significantly from the president himself.
Among George W. Bush’s cabinet appointees, 69 percent of appointees differed from Bush.
The study also includes a graph of 63 top cabinet secretaries and their appointing presidents, ranked on a statistical scale of liberal to conservative ideologies. Among the findings:
• John Ashcroft, despite his public perception as a staunch conservative as attorney general under Bush, was ranked far more moderate than the former president.
• Federico Peña, Clinton’s secretary of transportation and later secretary of energy, was found to be the most liberal cabinet member of any during the three presidencies studied.
The study, in the October issue of the American Journal of Political Science, compiled the first statistical portrait of political ideology among cabinet members during the George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies.
“Cabinet members are really not just allies of the president,” said co-author Anthony Bertelli, associate professor and holder of the C. C. Crawford Chair in Management and Performance at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the USC Gould School of Law.
“Most people assume the cabinet will have ideological allegiance to the president, but these administrations were much more diverse,” Bertelli said.
The study also found that the political party in control of Congress influences the ideological makeup of the president’s cabinet.
That may be because a cabinet head more closely aligned with congressional policy preferences means greater budgetary authority to that department, said study co-author Christian Grose, assistant professor of political science in USC Dornsife.
“The president has to make a nod to Congress,” Grose said.
In addition to using cabinet picks as a bargaining tool with the legislature, the president also may have an incentive to nominate those differing from his ideological bent to counteract pressure from interest groups, Grose said.
Related News Items
- Racing with Style February 25, 2015
- Doubling-down February 24, 2015
- On Our Best Behavior February 20, 2015
- Japan, Spies and the Roman Empire February 17, 2015
- Her Heart’s in the Far East February 13, 2015
- ‘Housewife to House Speaker’ February 12, 2015
- Ahead of the Game February 9, 2015
- The People’s Academic February 9, 2015
- Upstream and Downstream February 4, 2015
- State of the Union on Campus January 21, 2015
- Moment of Truth January 15, 2015
- Blood and Tears in Volhynia January 13, 2015
- A Delivery of Health and Hope December 22, 2014
- World-Changing Major December 10, 2014
- As Young as You Feel November 20, 2014
- Researching the Pacific Rim November 13, 2014
- View from the Hill November 10, 2014
- France to Access Testimony November 5, 2014
- Earn a Ph.D. in Religion October 10, 2014
- Light on the Darkest Hours October 8, 2014