Aligning Tests with Theory: Presidential Approval as a Source of Influence in Congress Academic Article uri icon


  • Over the past twenty years there has been a growing literature regarding the impact of the president's public approval and his success or support in Congress. Some studies have found very strong relationships while others have concluded that the relationship between presidential approval and congressional support is weak or nonexistent. Further complicating this issue is the virtual unanimity with which presidents and their aides assert the importance of the president's public standing to an administration's legislative success. There can be little doubt that the White House invests enormous amounts of time and energy in its efforts to obtain public support for the president, but it remains unclear (at least to political scientists) how this potential resource is translated into a tool of presidential leadership in Congress. In this paper I encourage scholars to take a fresh look at the question of the impact of presidential approval on presidential support in Congress. At the center of this rethinking, I suggest, should be more careful reasoning about the theoretical underpinnings of the relationship and more rigorous design of tests that evaluate this theory. I argue that the impact of presidential approval on congressional support for the president, if there is any, will be a broad background influence rather than one that shifts rapidly and causes immediate change in congressional support. Thus, we must fashion a test that is capable of capturing a broad influence rather than one that investigates a simple one-to-one impact. 1997 American University, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.

published proceedings

  • Congress & the Presidency

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Edwards, G. C.

citation count

  • 40

complete list of authors

  • Edwards, George C

publication date

  • January 1997