Tag Archives: Political Leadership

Institutions and Political Leadership in the Age of ‘Post-truth Politics’

This post is about institutions and political leadership. There are two elements to this topic – institutions and leadership – but typically only one of them gets any attention – institutions. Here, I want to say something about both elements, beginning with leadership.

What is political leadership? How should political leadership be defined? What is the ontology of political leadership? What does political leadership look like? How do we observe it? What behaviour constitutes leadership. What is behavioural political leadership?

There was a great deal of discussion in the 1970s and 1980s about how best to define political leadership and there was no consensus answer. Currently, we have no agreed scientific definition. The question is whether we do not have such a definition either because as a political science profession we have all decided that there is no definition of behavioural leadership to be found, or because we have chosen not to look for one.

However, recent work by scholars such as Cas Mudde on populism has shown us that the definition of difficult concepts can be made clearer. We may wish to revisit the debate about the definition of political leadership in this light.

For example, if we define political leadership to include a normative component such as the idea that leadership as an essentially positive behaviour – along the lines of James MacGregor Burns – then leadership can only be a force for democratic good. From this perspective, behaviour that weakens democracy – by Orbán, Trump, Salvini, etc. – is, by definition, not an act of leadership, no matter how popular the behaviour and the people who are engaging in the behaviour may be. In other words, perhaps people such as Orbán and Trump are not really behaving as leaders. Perhaps they are not really exercising political leadership. We can only make such statements, though, if we have a working definition of the concept that can provide a scientific basis for making them.

The absence of a definition of political leadership is a problem. There is now a genuine public and academic interest in the concept of political leadership. Yet, as academics, we have ignored the concept for many years. This means either that our work can safely be ignored because we do not have the scientific grounds on which to make any expert statements about the concept, or, worse, that we when make professional, expert, or academic statements about the exercise of political leadership in public, our work can be classed as mere opinion, as ideologically motivated comment, as fake news. This is because there is no science of political leadership.

So, if we want to make statements about whether the behaviour of x or y leader constitutes the exercise of leadership, whether they are exercising good or bad leadership, etc, then we need some conception of leadership, some definition of the concept that is clearer than we currently possess.

The study of institutions and political leadership is bound up with this discussion.

In the absence of a consensus scientific definition of behavioural political leadership, as academics we have come to use the terms leader and leadership in a certain way. We have come to understand a political leader as anyone who holds a position of high political office – presidents, PMs, etc. Equally, we have come to understand political leadership merely as the actions of those people, whatever those actions might be, whatever their behaviour might be, however good or bad, right or wrong, they might be. The exercise of behavioural political leadership is not a specific, defined sub-set of the type of behaviour that presidents, PMs, etc engage in, it is any and all of their behaviour.

We are perhaps missing something by thinking of leadership in this way, yet we gain something too. We lose the ability to make a Burns-like statement that someone such as Orbán or Trump is not really behaving as a leader. However, we gain the ability, first, to clearly identify the set of people – the leaders – that we are studying – presidents, PMs, etc. – and, second, we gain the ability to focus on any and all outcomes that we might happen to be interested in. That is to say, if leadership is not sub-set of the type of behaviour that presidents, PMs, etc engage in, but any and all of their behaviour, then we have the potential to study anything they do and say that we are studying leadership.

The study of institutions is central to this positional way of thinking about political leadership. When political leaders are merely institutional office holders, then the study of political leadership is necessarily bound up with institutions in that regard. When leadership outcomes are any and all outcomes that we might happen to be interested in, then the study of political leadership is necessarily bound up with the institutional context in which leaders operate. To the extent that we assume different institutions shape behaviour in different ways, then thinking about leaders as mere office holders and leadership as merely the actions of office holders gives us the potential not only to focus on institutions and study empirically why leadership outcomes vary from one place to another, but also to make recommendations about what sorts of institutional changes might be made to generate better leadership outcomes.

Thinking about leaders and leadership in this way, I want to make three empirical points about leadership and institutions.

First, we have concentrated too much of our attention on leadership in the context of headline regime-level institutions – presidentialism vs parliamentarism. True, we can say with some assurance certain things about regime-level institutions. Samuels and Shugart have identified some discrete regime-level institutional effects. For example, in parliamentary systems leaders lose office for party political reasons more often than leaders in semi-presidential and presidential systems. However, in other areas we need to be much more circumspect. In relation to democracy as an outcome, the debate about institutional effects is much more unresolved than many people believe. The empirical results about the relative merits of presidentialism and parliamentarism for democracy are sensitive to case selection, time period, model specification, etc. We have to acknowledge that many factors affect democratisation. Institutions are only one.

Second, this does not mean that institutions do not matter. However, we need to move beyond the study of headline regime-level institutions and look at how individual institutions combine to generate leadership outcomes. Institutions can combine to open up space for individual leaders to govern in a personalised way. They can also close down that space if they are designed appropriately. Indeed, institutions in parliamentary and semi-presidential regimes can combine in similar ways to generate similar leadership outcomes, opening up or closing down space equally.

For example, a Hungarian-style parliamentary system with an electoral system that encourages a coherent single-party majority that supports the PM creates the potential for personalised PM leadership. Equally, a French-style semi-presidential system with an electoral system that encourages a coherent single-party majority that supports the president creates the potential for personalised presidential leadership. The Samuels and Shugart thesis still applies. In Hungary the party could still bring down the PM whereas in France the party in parliament cannot bring down the president. Typically, though, the institutional design of both countries has opened up the space for both the Hungarian PM and the French president to govern in a personalised manner.

What allows the French and Hungarian systems to be so personalised is not the regime-level structures. It is the combination of the type of electoral system, the process of judicial appointments, the rules governing the organisation of political parties, the constitutional powers of the president and PM, and plenty of other institutional features too. In other words, the space that is opened up or closed off to top-level leaders is a function of the combination of many discrete institutional features. When we study institutions and political leadership, we need to look at the combination of these discrete institutional features, rather than merely the headline regime.

Third, this means that we also need to study these discrete institutional features in themselves. If we are worried about how leaders can abuse institutional features, then we need to look at all institutions and how they can be abused by leaders who want to engage in personalised leadership. For example, what is the power of a president to dismiss a constitutional court justice, or to prevent a PM from dismissing a constitutional court justice? This is far from a top-level, regime-defining institutional feature, but it can be an essential element of whether there is democratic backsliding in a country or not. We know from work on democratic backsliding that would-be authoritarian leaders will use any institutional feature to try to get what they want. We have to be mindful of how any institution can be used and abused. We have to be mindful of how any of those discrete institutional features can combine with each other to create a potentially difficult situation for democracy. We have to move away from the study of just presidentialism or parliamentarism and think about institutional features more generally.

To go back to the beginning, it is important to realise that there are two elements to the study of institutions and political leadership – institutions and leadership. What this means is that when we study institutions and political leadership, we have to do two things. We have to study institutions. We have to study how the effects of institutions. We have to study how those effects can be used and abused. We have to think about institutional reform and how we can generate better leadership outcomes. But we also have to think about the concept of political leadership itself, or at the very least we have to think about whether we want to think about the concept of political leadership. What behaviour constitutes political leadership? If we have an answer to that question, then we can start to explore which institutions correlate with behavioural political leadership. This would certainly be a step forward in the study of institutions and political leadership.

This is a revised version of a presentation that was given on 27 September 2018 to the German Political Science Association conference at the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. The theme of the roundtable was Political Leadership in the Age of “Post-truth Politics” – Potentials and Risks?”.

Edalina Rodrigues Sanches – Cabo Verde: Political leadership in the most exceptional democracy in Africa

This is a guest post by Edalina Rodrigues Sanches: Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa.

2018 marks the 43rd anniversary of Cabo Verde independence and 27 years of an exceptional democracy  with a tradition of  free and fair elections as well as peaceful transitions in power.  While historical and geographic factorsmay have facilitated these developments, political institutions such as executive systems, and political leadership have also played an important role.

A stable two-party system

Since the founding multiparty elections of January 1991, Cabo Verde has developed a balanced and stable two-party system in which the  PAICVand the MPDare the major parties. The PAICV is the older party in the system, and a forerunner of the PAIGCwhich was formed in 1956 during the liberation struggle against Portuguese colonial rule. It was the sole legal party during the authoritarian regime that spanned between 1975 and 1990; and it continued to play and important role in the post-transition era.  After losing parliamentary elections in 1991 and 1995, the PAICV won subsequent elections (2001, 2006, 2011) with broad parliamentary support (more than 50% of the seats).  The MPD, the second party to become legal in the country, was formed in 1990 during the critical juncture of democratic transition. It unexpectedly won the founding multiparty elections in 1991 and repeated the win in 1995 and more recently in 2016[1]. In all these polls the MPD managed to secure more than 50% of the potential seats.

Leadership successions within these two parties have been relatively peaceful. In the PAICV, there have been three transfers of power since 1991. In 1993, Aristides Lima replaced Pedro Pires as the new secretary-general and stood as prime-ministerial candidate at the 1995 elections but eventually lost. In 2000, José Maria Neves was elected new party leader, a position he held for 14 out of the 15 years he acted as the country’s prime-minister (2001-2016). This was a period of strong external projection of the country; but, internally, the government faced important challenges namely economic slowdown, rising unemployment, and higher levels of social contestation, particularly between 2008-2015.  In 2014, José Maria Neves announced he was not going to run for the party presidency. This happened before the end of his mandate as Prime Minister and paved the way for the election of a new leader that would also run as prime-ministerial candidate in the 2016 polls. Janira Hopffer Almada was elected the new leader in the highly disputed party primaries of 2014 and became the first female to be elected party leader and to run for prime minister. The party never came together to support her leadership and she eventually lost the 2016 elections but saw her legitimacy as leader sanctioned in the 2017 primaries.

In the MPD, leadership successions have been more difficult. Carlos Veiga’s leadership was marked by economic recovery and good governance but conflicts within the party led to the first scission in 1993 and to the formation of Partido da Convergência Democrático (PCD). In 2000, he decided to step down as both Prime Minister and party leader, and to run as presidential candidate. But in-fighting persisted and led to a new offshoot in 2001 – Partido da Renovação Democrática(PRD). This crisis set Jacinto Santos, the then President of the Praia municipality and member of the Political Committee of MPD, against Gualberto do Rosário, the then Prime Minister. With the 2000 MPD convention ahead, Jacinto Santos withdrew from the leadership race and went on to form the PRD with other party members. The Convention confirmed the leadership of Gualberto do Rosário who was succeeded by Agostinho Lopes (2002-2007), Jorge Santos (2007-2013) and most recently Ulisses Correia e Silva (since 2013), the current Prime Minister.

The key lesson that can be drawn from this is that leadership successions in Cabo Verde – both within the parties and in the executive – have become sufficiently institutionalized, and help maintain regime stability.

Symmetric and stable relations between the president and the prime minister

Cabo Verde has been a semi-presidential regime from the outset of democratic transition. The amendment to the 1990 constitution in 1992 reduced presidential powers to dissolve parliament and dismiss the cabinet, and strengthened the legislative initiative  of the executive[2]. Eight years later, a new revision defined that presidential and legislative elections should no longer be almost concurrent (only one month between them) but were now to be held with a six-monthlag.

When compared to other former Lusophone countries, the Cabo Verdean president is theweakest in terms of formal powers, but his role has never been irrelevant[3]. The overall relationship between the president and the prime minister has been balanced and symmetric whoever is in leadership. One contributing factor is that the rounds of parliamentary and presidential elections held since 1991 have produced successive episodes of unified government in which the same party has the majority in the parliament and in the presidency[4]. The only episode of cohabitation was in 2011 when the PAICV had the majority in parliament and the MPD was able to elect its presidential candidate. Power sharing between Prime Minister José Maria Neves and the elected President, Jorge Carlos Fonseca, generatedpolitical tensions and conflictsover the appointment of state officials and foreign policy issues. Despite this, these two strong charismatic leaders maintained an amicable relationship throughout the period of cohabitation.

Since 2016, “normality” has returned as there is again a situation of unified government. In his second mandate, Jorge Carlos Fonseca has already stated the need for a constitutional revisionthat reinforces democratic institutions as well as social justice.  Following some problems related to the performance of some ministers and the coordination between the different portfolios,Prime Minister Ulisses Correia eventually reshuffled the cabinet.  But in a context of balanced intra-executive relationships, there are signs of increasing contestation from civil society. This year the celebration of Cabo Verde’s independence on July 5 was marked by several protestsin the main Islands and the same happened last year. This time, citizens’ complaints included a broad range of  issues from  unemployment, to regionalisation  and to the Status of Forces Agreement(SOFA)with the United States. With further impending strikes and protests, it remains uncertain how the new political leadership will address social contestation.  So far, the Prime Minister has refused to take responsibilityfor the complaints made, although the rights of individuals to protest  is generally acknowledged.

Notes

[1]Sanches, E.R. 2018. Party Systems in Young Democracies: Varieties of institutionalization in Sub-Saharan Africa. London and New York: Routledge.

[2]Évora, R. 2013. Cabo Verde: Democracia e sistema de governo, in Costa, S. & Sarmento, C. (orgs). Entre África e a Europa: Nação, Estado e Democracia em Cabo Verde. Coimbra: Almedina

[3]Costa, Daniel. 2009. O Papel do Chefe de Estado no Semipresidencialismo Cabo-verdiano, 1991–2007, in Lobo, M.C., & Neto, O. A. (orgs). O Semi-Presidencialismo nos Países de Língua Portuguesa, Lisbon: ICS.

[4]MPD’s cabinets were supported by President António Mascarenhas Monteiro (two mandates 1991-2001) while PAICV’s were supported by President Pedro Pires (two mandates 2001-2011).

Germany – President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the unofficial foreign minister

After more than seven years as Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier stepped down from his cabinet post to become the country’s 12th Federal President in early 2017. Despite his new role and the limited prerogatives of the office, Steinmeier remains the most prominent voice in German foreign policy – almost as if he had never left the foreign ministry.

German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier | © German Presidential Office / Henning Schacht 2018

The constitutionally prescribed role of the German president is generally limited to representative functions, although it affords office-holders with some leeway in times of crisis. The representative function extends to foreign affairs and as head of state the president signs international treaties on behalf of the German Federal Republic. Nevertheless, contrary to other countries the president does not take part in substantive foreign policy decision or represent the country at intergovernmental meetings.

Steinmeier was elected by the outgoing ‘grand coalition’ of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats in early 2017 and it can arguably be credited to his exceptionally strong leadership that parties renewed their coalition following the autumn 2017 legislative elections (in particular, persuading the Social Democratic leadership to make themselves available as junior coalition partner once again). Already shortly after his inauguration, Steinmeier harshly criticised developments surrounding the Central European University in Hungary during his speech to the European Parliament and his criticism of the far-right Alternative for Germany has likely been noted internationally. He furthermore made no efforts to retract or soften any statements he had made during his ministerial tenure (most prominently his assessment of U.S.-president Donald Trump as a hate preacher and danger to democracy).

Having just conceded his post as party leader and designated Social Democratic candidate for chancellor, his immediate successor in the foreign ministry – vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel – had a more difficult start and only slowly came into his own. However, Gabriel already lost his post less than a year later in the cabinet reconfiguration following the renewal of the grand coalition. His successor, former minister of justice Heiko Maas, has only formally been in office since March this year and is still trying to make his mark. His open criticism of Vladimir Putin’s re-election and arguments in favour of ongoing sanctions as well as his opposition to tariffs introduced by the U.S. against car imports were widely noted. Nevertheless, he still lacks the reputation and gravitas that enabled Steinmeier to assert German interests on the European and international level.

In contrast, president Steinmeier has been able to maintain a much more influential voice in Germany’s foreign policy. During his recent state visit to the United States (notably yet unsurprisingly lacking an invitation to visit the White House), although once again largely representative in character and not an event that would usually make the front pages of any newspaper, he articulated more clearly than ever his vision of Germany as a leader in promoting democracy and becoming an antipole to the politics of the current U.S. administration.

However, the reason Steinmeier has been able to maintain such a vocal role in Germany foreign policy is not merely the result of his own strength and political opportunity. Appearances by the president are closely coordinated with the Chancellor’s office and the the foreign ministry (a few years ago, government MPs even sought to find legal means to ‘muzzle’ the president with regard to foreign policy). Thus, at least partly Steinmeier is taking an active role because he is allowed to do so. Yet at the same time, the Federal government is currently caught up in discussions about refugee policy (any European solutions are regarded as remit of the Chancellor, so that the foreign ministry does not play a role here) and the respective conflict between Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. Coalition parties (including Steinmeier’s own Social Democrats) may thus also benefit from Steinmeier’s activism in foreign policy given that they currently lack the resources to set the tone in this area and the president has not majorly deviated from their preferences. Yet, the more the president is afforded freedom, the more difficult it will be to rein him in once government priorities change. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has already set a precedent through his active involvement in government formation; he may set one in the formulation of German foreign policy as well.

Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach

Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach
Robert Elgie
Palgrave Macmillan, 2018

This book provides a philosophically informed, institutionalist account of political leadership. It is rooted in a Peircean version of the American pragmatist philosophical tradition and privileges the study of institutions as a cause of leadership outcomes. The study includes identifying the psychological effects of presidentialism and parliamentarism on leader behavior, a study of the impact of institutions on electoral accountability for economic performance, studies of president/cabinet conflict in Europe, presidential control over cabinet composition in France, and constitutional choice in France and Romania. It adopts a multi-method approach, including a lab experiment, large-n statistical tests, and Qualitative Comparative Analysis, as well as two in-depth process-tracing case studies. The aim is to show that an institutional account has the potential to generate well-settled beliefs about the causes of leadership outcomes.

In this post, we outline the work in one chapter. In this chapter, we re-examine Hellwig and Samuels’ (2007) article on economic voting and the clarity of institutional responsibility. Like Hellwig and Samuels, we are interested in the relative effect of parliamentary and semi-presidential institutions on electoral accountablility for economic performance. We are also interested in exploring the effect of variation in presidential power on economic voting in this context. In short, we are interested in whether institutions condition the extent to which presidents and prime ministers are rewarded/blamed for good/bad economic performance.

To address this issue, we update Hellwig and Samuels dataset, noting certain revisions to the way in which they record the vote at elections with the aim of maximising the reliability of the values in the dataset. We then use exactly the same estimation technique as Hellwig and Samuels.

There is insufficient room here to go through the results in depth. (Which is just an ill-disguised invitation to buy the book). There is also no space to describe how the variables have been operationalised. Again, all that material is in the book. Here, we just wish to provide a flavour of the results.

We find support for Hellwig and Samuels’ basic finding that electoral accountability for economic performance is greater under high-clarity elections, i.e. where there is a single-party government, than low-clarity elections where there is not.

More interestingly, our results also show support for Hellwig and Samuels’ finding that the electoral accountability of the president’s party for economic performance is significantly greater during periods of unified government relative to cohabitation. Figure 1 reports the basic results of our models in the same way that Hellwig and Samuels present them in their paper.

Figure 1    The conditional effect of cohabitation in semi-presidential regimes on economic accountability

However, there are some differences between Hellwig and Samuels’ results and ours. Perhaps most notably, we find that electoral accountability for economic performance is significantly greater at presidential elections than legislative elections. This makes sense. At presidential elections, the clarity of responsibility is likely to be clearer because voters can hold a single person/party responsible for the state of the economy. This is the result that Hellwig and Samuels expected to find in their work, but which was not returned. Using the updated version of their dataset, we now find support for their intuition. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2         The conditional effect of the type of election on economic accountability

While we are concerned with re-testing Hellwig and Samuels’ thesis, we are really interested in exploring how presidential power shapes the clarity of responsibility for economic voting. Hellwig and Samuels do not follow up on this issue in their article. So, we are trying to build on their work by integrating presidential power into their analysis.

We find that presidential power does help us to understand how institutions shape electoral accountability for economic performance. For example, when we include presidential power in the model we find that there is significantly greater economic voting at presidential elections with strong presidents. Again, this makes sense. When there is a strong president, the clarity of responsibility should be higher. Voters know better whom to reward or blame. By contrast, when there is a weak, non-executive presidency, we would not necessarily expect the incumbent president or their party to be held accountable for economic performance. (See Figure 3 relative to Figure 2).

Figure 3        The conditional effect of presidential power and type of election on economic accountability

In addition, we also find that electoral accountability for economic performance is conditional upon presidential power during cohabitation. In these periods, there is significantly greater economic voting during periods of unified government when there is a strong president. (See Figure 4 relative to Figure 1). In other words, the combination of unified government and presidential power shapes economic voting at elections under semi-presidentialism.

Figure 4         The conditional effect of presidential power and cohabitation in semi-presidential regimes on economic accountability

These are only a flavour of the results in the chapter. Spoiler alert, not all results are as expected. Most, though, are.

We would like to thank Hellwig and Samuels for supplying their dataset for replication purposes. Obviously, all results presented here and in the book are the author’s responsibility alone.

Reference

Hellwig, Timothy, and David Samuels (2007), ‘Electoral Accountability and the Variety of Democratic Regimes’, British Journal of Political Science, 38: 65-90.

France – President Macron’s political leadership: The personal dimension

One of the core enigmas of the 2017 presidential campaign related to the personality of Emmanuel Macron. Who is Emmanuel Macron? As the real prospect of his election drew nearer, the search for the ‘real’ Macron preoccupied journalists, commentators, political satirists and (rival) politicians, in more or less good faith. Did Macron represent the tardive manifestation in France of Blairite Third Way, as suggested by Arnaud Parmentier (2017) in Le Monde? While there are some obvious similarities, Blair framed his leadership within one of the established parties, whereby Macron came from outside the existing party establishment. Or, on the contrary, as the specialist of the French right Gilles Robert contended, was Macron a contemporary version of the liberal, Orleanist right, an adept of political and economic liberalization (Richard, 2017)? Or, more crudely, the representative of international finance, as maliciously portrayed by Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in a not so strange convergence? Or quite simply the continuation of the (failed) Hollande presidency, the favourite frame of the LR candidate François Fillon?

Even before his election as President, Macron was not a totally unknown quantity, of course. As deputy General Secretary of the Presidential staff from 2012-14, Macron was a key figure in the background, exercising a reputedly strong influence in relation to the social liberal turn of the Hollande presidency (lowering taxes on business via the Business tax credit scheme [Crédit d’impôt pour la compétitivité et l’emploi – CICE] of 2013) and the Business Pact [Pacte de Responsabilité] of 2014). As Minister for the Economy, Industry and Digital Policy, Macron associated his name with a complex law that aimed comprehensively to modernize and liberalise the French economy; that most of its more controversial measures (especially in relation to the professions and work regulations) were abandoned or diluted was more a testament to the stout resistance of the Socialist frondeurs than evidence of half-hearted intent. In August 2016, Macron resigned from his position at the heart of the Hollande administration to launch the risky venture of building his political movement (En Marche!, launched in April 2016) and standing for the French presidential election. At the very least, he is a political entrepreneur and a risk-taker.

Focusing on the individual qualities of a political leader is a necessary (though not sufficient) exercise. Understanding Macron requires adopting, or at least adapting, a framework for studying political leadership. Most models of political leadership involve some combination of personal qualities, positional strengths and weaknesses, and the wider environmental and cultural constraints and opportunities that help shape political leadership. Understanding Macron requires a combination of three levels of analysis: micro (individual), the meso- (institution) and the macro (Europe, foreign policy, international economy). The political constellation in 2017 and the interaction of these three levels arguably placed Macron in a strong position to win through to the second round and eventually be elected President. In his management of the first eight months of his presidency, a mode of two or three-level bargaining has described well his pursuit of his presidential goals and ambitions. Three-level bargaining is used to refer to the interplay between political persona, institutional position and external constraints and opportunities. The theme will be developed more in the next blog. There is at least a heuristic value in combining levels of analysis if we are to understand Macron’s activity as President. In this first of three blog entries dedicated to Emmanuel Macron, and cognizant of the interactive relationship between levels of analysis, I focus on the personal dimension of his leadership.

Macron’s personal qualities are understood and valued insofar as they inform a broader political persona. Insofar as we integrate personal variables, these play themselves out at three levels of abstraction: personal attributes, symbolic attributes and representative attributes.

This first level of analysis is, inevitably, second-hand. But it is valuable, insofar as it disseminates representations that circulate and that are more or less tolerated and organized by the individual himself. A stream of books and articles on Macron were published in and around the 2017 presidential election. These ranged from the hagiographical (Besson, 2017), through the psycho-biography (Fulda, 2016), to the philosophical (Couturier, 2017), or the instant or contemporary historical approach (Jeanneney, 2017; Prissette, 2017 ; Debray, 2017 ; Bourmaud, 2017) and the first attempts at conceptualization and understanding (Debray, 2017). Personal qualities are not intrinsically valued in our account, unless they contribute to the style of governing. In the case of Macron, there is an argument that Brigitte, his spouse, played an important role in the overall political enterprise and that Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron formed a coherent political household, akin to that of the Pompidou family at an earlier period. It was certainly the case that the foreign media were obsessed with Brigitte Macron, who developed her own office within the Elysée, signed a transparency charter, setting out her role and responsibilities, and cultivated her image as a promotor of the liberal arts and various good causes.

At the level of personal traits: the leadership qualities of decisiveness, strength, resolution, risk-taking, vision and imagination are differentially distributed, irrespective of wider structural circumstances. Not even his fiercest adversary can contest the ability to take risks; giving up his position as Economy, Industry and Digital minister to launch himself into the risky venture of En Marche! demonstrated this. Resigning from the civil service to be able to contest the campaign goes in the same direction. Some common themes that emerge from a rapid analysis of the above works are Macron’s personal qualities of determination, resolution and brilliance, coupled with the adjective of the killer with a penchant for vertical forms of governing. The downside was the diffusion (in early surveys, at least) of the image of a rather arrogant, distant and elitist individual.

The personal dimension of Macron might also be understood at a level once removed, or a second level of abstraction. His personal background is interesting insofar as Macron appears as a typical representative of the French elite, having studied at the elite Sciences Po and the National School of Administration (Ecole nationale d’administration – ENA). Rather like former President Pompidou, Macron also spent a period of time working in the private sector, for the Rothschild bank. In a JDD-IFOP poll of 16-17th March 2017 before his election, only 41% considered Macron to be close to the people; his background as a brilliant ENA graduate and his work for Rothschild bank leave the indelible image that Macron is a member of the French elite. This representation is treated in a more nuanced way in some accounts. Abel insists on the fact that the young Macron studied for a higher degree in philosophy at Nanterre University and worked as editorial assistant for the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, a reference that underpins the cultivated image of Macron as the President-Philosopher, or, again, as the avid consumer of highbrow literature (Abel, 2017; Mongin, 2017).

A rather different line of enquiry – a third level of abstraction – relates to whether Macron embodies the sign of the times, the candidate who best crystallized the confused and contradictory ethos of a particular epoch. The focus here is not so much on individual qualities, as on the representative function vested upon him. The first claim is that of generational renewal: he represents better than any other candidate the demand for a new generation. Elected President at 39 years old, Macron was a few years younger than Tony Blair and around the same age as Matteo Renzi in Italy when he became premier. Second, Macron’s election symbolized the running out of steam of the traditional left-right cleavage in French politics. Macron was elected President while riding high on the rejection of party and contesting the validity of the left-right cleavage. For Taguieff (2017), Macron was both actor and subject of the withering away of the old cleavage of left and right, and the embodiment of a new one, based on an openness-closure division within French society. For Bigorne and colleagues, Macron is the symbol of the decomposition and recomposition of the French political system, a transformative position partially instigated by Macron himself.

Third, Macron’s election was symbolic of a generational renewal and an overhaul of political personnel. There was a symbolic rejuvenation and major change of political personnel, characterized by the arrival en masse of new deputies with no political experience, of activists with no experience of political activism and professionals trusted to manage the affairs of their sector. Macron’s avowed distrust of parties was expressed by a preference for rule by experts and professionals, reflected in the composition of the Philippe government itself. Some prominent examples include Muriel Pénicaud, Minister for Employment (former head of Human Resources in the Danone firm), Jean-Michel Blanquer, Education Minister (former President of the HEC business school) and Agnès Buzin (a practicing doctor who became Minister for Health).

All of this adds up to an appreciation of style. We understand style to refer to the complex mix of preferences, beliefs, skills, values and practices of individuals in a potential leadership situation. In terms of Macron, there is some tension between two prevalent frames in the literature: that of the transformative leader, in the framework popularized by James McGregor Burns (1978) and the equilibrist or museum curator (inherent in the campaign theme of ‘en même temps’). In her analysis of ‘the ten words that best characterize Macron’, Darrigand prefers Transformation to that of Revolution (though ‘Revolution’ was the title of Macron’s successful 2016 book). Transformation refers to the ambitious programme of gradual reforms, the cumulative effect of which is to transform society. Transformation is most definitely preferred in the Macron lexicography either to Revolution (a utopian vision removed from reality and producing dystopian outcomes), or to Reform (a negative truism, associated with disillusion on account of the failure of successive governments to reform French society). It is progressive and pragmatic. Transformation is viewed by Macron as a form of correction of past errors, of unblocking the numerous blockages of French politics, society and economy and liberating energies, while protecting the weakest in society. In this sense, transformation can tie into the en même temps slogan, popularised and chanted by Macron supporters during the 2017 campaign.

En même temps can be read first as a campaign slogan – rather like Obama’s Yes We Can. The literal translation – ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ – might be subject to confusion, however. It can imply an equilibrist, between left and right, the traditional positioning of the centre in France. Identifying itself as between left and right, the French centre has traditionally been squeezed between the Scylla of anti-Gaullism and the Charybdis of anti-Socialism, with a tendency for the centre to drift towards the latter position. The rallying of historic centrist François Bayrou in February 2017 put Macron’s flagging campaign back on track; the debt to the traditional centre was acknowledged by the freshly elected Macron, who rewarded Bayrou with a major position in government and ensured that the MODEM was generously endowed with winnable seats in the June 2017 parliamentary elections (at which the MODEM elected 51 deputies). But renewing with a certain legacy of the French centre is only a small part of the Macron story. En même temps can also imply a transformative leader beyond left and right, consigning the key ideological cleavage drawn from the French revolution to history; the ‘old’ system condemned by Macron and supporters is roundly rejected, both in terms of the mutually exclusive ideological frames it embodies and the parties it produces which feed on maintaining ideological exclusivities for instrumental partisan advantage.

Third, en même temps can be understood as left and right. In this third synthesis, left and right provide inspiration, ideas and talented people on which a modernising President should draw. The historical precursors are General de Gaulle in 1945 and 1958, Prime Minister Rocard in 1988, even President Sarkozy in 2007: on each occasion, political leaders attempted to draw in the best talents from across the political spectrum. The political leader is likened to the curator of a museum, classifying the contributions made by left and right and drawing in the best talents, ideas and political programmes from wherever their provenance. These three positions – centre, central, custodial – are not identical, however, and imply a permanent process of adjustment (between social protection and economic liberalisation, for example). Macron’s New Year address to the French on 31st December 2017 implied that the economic reform agenda of the first eight months would be counter-balanced by a more protective and social approach in 2018.

Finally, en même temps ought to be read as a coded attack on the legacy of his predecessor Hollande, the former President accused of being unable to make firm decisions, of hesitating, of fiddling while Rome burns, while Macron’s central position is portrayed by supporters as openly embracing the best talents and ideas in a problem- solution logic. For Taguieff (2017), Macron’s success lies in the capacity to embody opposites: to be centrist and radical; to be courteous and ruthless; to appear as politically correct and anti-system. The key question is whether the equilibrist can put into effect a process of transformation. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s old dream of representing two of every three French people ran into determined opposition and ultimately failed. The Macron experiment deserves closer empirical observation, which will be the subject of the next post.

References

Abel, O. 92017), ‘Paul Ricoeur et Emmanuel Macron’, Etudes, Septembre, 4241, pp. 47-57;
Besson, P. (2017) Un personnage de roman, Paris : Plon, 2017
Bigorne, L., Baudry, A. & Duhamel, O. (2017), Macron, Et En Meme Temps, Paris : Plon.
Bourmaud, F.-X. (2017) Emmanuel Macron – Les Coulisses D’une Victoire, Paris : L’archipel, 2017.
Burns, J.-M. (1978) Leadership, New York: Harper Collins, 1978.
Couturier, B. (2017), Macron : un président philosophe Paris : Editions de l’observatoire.
Darrigand, M. (2017), ‘Emmanuel Macron en Dix Mots’ Etudes, 4241, pp. 21-32, September.
Debray, R. (2017) Le nouveau pouvoir Paris: Editions du Cerf.
Fulda, A. (2016) Emmanuel Macron, Un Jeune Homme Si Parfait Paris : Plon.
Gaetner, G. (2017) Les 100 Jours De Macron Paris : Fauves Editions.
Jeanneney, J-N. (2017) Le Moment Macron – Un Président Et L’histoire Paris : Seuil.
Mongin, O. (2017)‘Les lectures d’Emmanuel Macron’, Commentaire, 159, pp. 519-523.
Parmentier A. (2017) ‘Macron, la troisième voie’, Le Monde 3rd March.
Prissette, N. (2017), Emmanuel Macron : Le président inattendu, Paris : First.
Richard, R. (2017)‘Ce que l’histoire de la droite nous apprend’, Le Point, 9th March.
Taguieff, P.-A. (2017) Macron : Miracle Ou Mirage ? Paris : Editions de l’Observatoire.

Ludger Helms – Resources, constraints, and the mystery of presidential performance

This is a guest post by Ludger Helms, Professor of Political Science and Chair of Comparative Politics at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. It is the expanded summary of an article that has just been published in Politics. The full article is ungated and can be accessed free of charge.

As observers of presidential power and leadership we have a vested interest in understanding what makes presidents successful leaders, and what may limit and undermine presidential performance. One of the most basic and popular positions to be encountered in the international literature on presidential power and leadership is that the president’s status and performance depends largely on the number and substance of the resources that he or she commands. Resources are usually considered to include in particular a wealth of institutional and political items (such as the powers of office, the availability of administrative and political support staff, large and stable majorities, or a fresh electoral mandate).

Arguably the greatest advantage of resource-oriented approaches, compared to classic personalist or institutionalist understandings of presidential power and leadership, is that they are keen to avoid both reductionism and determinism, and leave ample room for agency. That is, presidents are not already efficient and successful performers if they command a decent set of resources, but only if they are able to use them adroitly. Still, the dominant assumption of most authors in the field clearly seems to be that the more institutional and political resources are available to a president, the more successful he or she is likely to be.

This may seem plausible, even compelling. And yet, this is not what political reality in many presidential (and other) regimes would appear to correspond to. The presidency of Donald Trump is just the most obvious recent example of a newly elected president whose party controls both the executive and the legislative branch, but who nevertheless conspicuously failed to make any major move for about the first 11 months in power (until the passage of the major tax cut bill early in  December 2017). In terms of job approval, Trump soon became the most unpopular president in the history of political polling. Other examples of presidents who appeared to have what it takes to perform successfully, and still failed spectacularly, can be found. Just think of President François Hollande of France who succeeded what had by then been the Fifth Republic’s most unpopular president, and was the first Socialist president facing a National Assembly and Senate controlled by the Socialist Party. Later on, following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris of November 2015, he was even fitted with special emergency powers, which seemed set to honour the unspoken promise of crises as welcome opportunities and power boosters for political chief executives. And yet, Hollande ended up as clearly one of the Fifth Republic’s weakest presidents ever, and the only one as yet who did not even dare to seek re-election when his first term drew to a close.

What may seem an arbitrary glance at the larger picture of presidential leadership and performance is actually substantiated by more systematic assessments of the political status and fate of presidents in different regimes. For example, a recent empirical study on US presidents found that ‘presidents are considered stronger under divided as opposed to unified government’, and ‘divided government presidents are more popular than unified government ones’ (Cohen 2015, p. 81). In the same vein, those French presidents that had to perform under the strongly power-restricting state of ‘cohabitation’ (the French counterpart to American ‘divided government’) overall had better re-election records than many presidents commanding a sizeable majority. And while this forum is dedicated to presidential politics, it still seems worth noting that these patterns are not confined to the family of presidential or semi-presidential democracies: Indeed, many prime ministers in parliamentary democracies heading particularly cumbersome coalition governments, widely believed to make prime ministers weak and vulnerable, have enjoyed higher job approval scores than their counterparts in more power-concentrating environments.

How can this be explained? One key to this would appear to be expectations: Presidents commanding an impressive arsenal of institutional and political resources are likely to raise high expectations among the public, which will then play an independent role in shaping presidential performance, or more precisely in influencing the perceived performance of presidents. Ultimately, in politics as elsewhere, virtually all performance is perceived performance, and perceptions tend to be strongly shaped by previous expectations.

A second possible source of this apparent paradox could be the presidents themselves:  Exceptionally resource-rich presidents may tend towards complacency which may undermine the seriousness of their efforts to provide effective problem-solving and leadership, and will eventually be reflected in unfavourable assessments of their performance. Alternatively, they may make full and unconditional use of their resources, possibly resorting to overly aggressive and ruthless leadership styles, in a desperate attempt to meet the towering expectations they face, which is equally unlikely to find the approval and support of the wider public.

Are less resource-rich leaders, after all, better off than their structurally better situated counterparts? As highlighted above, there is some evidence suggesting that, in fact, ‘less can be more’. In order to fully capture this phenomenon, it is useful to remind ourselves that in mainstream political research resources and constraints are widely considered to mark two opposite and complementary phenomena. Understood this way, leaders having few resources at their disposal could, alternatively, be characterized as leaders facing strong constraints. Strictly speaking, of course, even resource-rich leaders may face strong constraints, and leaders facing few obvious constraints may still have limited resources, but the main thrust of the argument is that, other things being equal, resources make leaders powerful, while constraints limit and weaken them.

Rethinking the observations about presidential and prime ministerial performance made above, I suggest to develop an alternative understanding of constraints, and to think of constraints as potential ‘negative resources’. The term ‘negative resource’ seeks to highlight the hidden potential of an apparent constraint. A ‘negative resource’ is a constraint successfully transformed into a positive source that may benefit the status and performance of a political leader. This possible transformation is the result of a complex process which involves in particular a leader’s skills, yet also a wealth of highly contingent contextual factors and, not least, the perception of that leader by others. Again, expectations, in this case modest expectations, would appear to explain much of the support and success that constrained leaders may have. As empirical studies suggest, citizens prefer politicians who set a low expectation and exceed it to those who promise much, and then fail to deliver (Malhotra and Margalit 2014: 1014). But it’s not all about subjective expectations and promises kept: Providing effective leadership from a resource-poor position and in power-dispersing environments marks, by any standard, a more difficult task and greater achievement than simply pulling the levers of power in strongly power-concentrating regimes, and thus deserves to be valued more highly.

More recently, this realization has come to be acknowledged also in normative reflections about leadership in contemporary politics. For most contemporary scholars of political leadership, strong leaders and leadership are two things of the past, not only dated but outright dangerous to any form of genuine democratic governance. Collaborative leadership, shared leadership, and other related concepts are widely seen to mark superior alternative approaches for political leadership in the twenty-first century.

To be sure, all this may seem to amount to a major paradox marking the challenges of presidential leadership, and political leadership more generally, in a new ‘anti-political age’. However, it is important to note that the basic phenomenon is not new at all. In fact, at least since the Philadelphia Convention ambitions have been made ‘to promote ‘leadership’ while constraining ‘leaders’’ (Rhodes and ‘t Hart 2014: 2). It just seems to have taken another quarter of a millennium, witnessing some great successes and many more disastrous failures of political leadership, to truly bring out the deeper truth in this.

References

Cohen, Jeffrey E. (2015) Presidential Leadership in Public Opinion: Causes and Consequences. Cambridge University Press.

Malhotra, N and Margalit Y (2014) Expectation setting and retrospective voting. The Journal of Politics 76:4, 1000-1016.

Rhodes, R.A.W. and Paul ‘t Hart (2014) Puzzles of Political Leadership. In: R.A.W. Rhodes and Paul t’Hart, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Political Leadership, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-21.

Selena Grimaldi – The Leadership Capital of Italian Presidents: The Politics of Constraint and Moral Suasion

This is a guest post by Selena Grimaldi, University of Padova. In this post she summarises her chapter ‘The Leadership Capital of Italian Presidents: The Politics of Constraint and Moral Suasion’ in the new volume ‘The Leadership Capital Index: A New Perspective on Political Leadership‘ (edited by Mark Bennister, Ben Worthy, and Paul ‘t Hart, Oxford University Press 2017).

Measuring leadership has primarily been a US-American concern, since its archetypical form of presidentialist government concentrates all executive functions in a single person, and also merges the duties of the Head of Government and of the Head of State in a single office. Indeed, the first attempt at ranking the leadership of presidents was made in 1948 by Arthur M. Schlesinger, surveying 55 scholars on several aspects of leadership of 29 US presidents.

Despite objections against the methodology of measurement, over recent decades it has been adopted in a number of Westminster democracies such as Canada[1], New Zeland[2], Australia[3]  and the UK[4]. Recently, measuring leaders’ capabilities has become a concern also in consensual democracies as the importance of prime ministers has grown even in these contexts – so much so that scholars talk of the ‘presidentialization’ of parliamentary democracies.[5] Irrespective of whether the presidentialization hypothesis can be considered confirmed[6], there is no doubt that since the 1990s Italian prime ministers have acquired a central role within the cabinet.[7] However, the political science literature has so far failed to address sufficiently the fact that the prime minister is not the only political actor who gained power as a result of the presidentialization process. In fact, there is another actor who benefitted from it: the president of the Republic, who is the only real monocratic figure of the Italian political system.[8]

So far, there has not been any attempt to rank presidents or prime ministers in Italy. This is most likely because both the head of state and the head of government are linked to the legacy of weak political actors preceding them.[9] Indeed, during the so-called First Republic (1948-1993), presidents were considered as notaries who exercised passive oversight[10]  and prime ministers were definitely first among equals.[11]

In the chapter summarized in this blog post I measured the leadership of Italian presidents rather than that of prime ministers because, to my knowledge, there is as of yet no ranking of any king for presidents of parliamentary republics. Moreover, I think it is useful to focus on these political figures which have too often been ignored by scholars, especially when their role has had a visible impact on the evolution of certain parliamentary democracies.

The Leadership Capital Index (LCI) was first conceptualised and applied to prime ministers (or directly elected presidents). However, it could be potentially also be adapted and applied to other kind of political leaders as it is based both on agency and personal appeal. For example, in the Italian case, presidential powers are not only institutional but take the least visible form of so-called moral suasion, i.e. where presidents influence, pressure, and persuade others based on their “neutrality” and personal appeal.

From a methodological point of view, the real challenge was to adapt the indicators used by Bennister et al.[12] to the Italian context and to ‘institutionally’ constrained leaders. In particular, building on the three main dimensions (skills, relations and reputation) of the leadership capital index, I employed 12 indicators that produced a synthetic score ranging from from 11 to 54 points. Since the LCI requires a lot of soft measurements, another meaningful step was to develop a questionnaire regarding Italian presidents which was then proposed to a panel of scholars with a good knowledge of contemporary Italian politics.

The analysis shows that the leadership capital of the three presidents of the Second Republic included in the study varies from medium (Scalfaro) to high capital scores (Ciampi and Napolitano). The LCI allows us to drill into these assessments and see the individual strengths and weaknesses of each office holder within the confines of the office. Scalfaro’s strength in maintaining his capital stemmed predominantly from his political skills, Ciampi’s from his relations, and Napolitano’s through a combination of reputation and political skills. For example, Scalfaro’s longevity in politics allowed him to successfully face down attacks by PM Berlusconi and right-wing parties, but his capital was weakened by his lack of neutrality. Ciampi, buttressed by the bipartisan agreement that secured his election, used these founding relations to influence foreign policy and domestically pursue a popular re-discovery of the Italian founding myth. However, as a political outsider, he was unfamiliar with the complexity of the Italian party system. Napolitano defended presidential prerogatives, at times challenging the government and inviting parliament to follow particular points of view. However, from 2011 onwards, public trust began to decrease as he became more interventionist and more deeply enmeshed in domestic crises.

All three presidents blended old and new powers to build leadership capital. The three office holders all brought high levels of capital to the position that they had built up during their previous, often very extensive, political careers. The traditional characteristics of neutrality, peer support (from the Electoral College), and long political experience all provide capital, building skills, relations, and reputation. On top of this, the three successive presidents discovered and built new sources of power by cultivating popular support, using communication strategies and offering a coherent and powerful political vision. Within this general formal institutional strengthening, each president then acquired capital from slightly different areas: whether through their skills, relations, or reputation. It was this synthesis of old and new elements, institution and agency, that has made presidents more effective in the political arena and active in policy-making, especially in foreign policy and government formation.

However, the LCI does not solve all of the problems involved in assessing leadership, as it is necessarily a context-based concept. The added value of the LCI approach is that it allows the traceability of power over time, revealing how each president has built on others’ strengths but all have encountered similar limits: while Italian presidents can spend their capital in focused areas, too overt attempts to act politically can erode their capital by damaging their perceived neutrality and moral probity. The steady, increasingly upward trend of the Italian presidents’ leadership capital points not only to the importance of these institutional leaders within the Italian context during the Second Republic, but to their gradual learning of what their authority can and cannot be used for. The ongoing political crisis, and the relative loss of legitimacy in almost all other political bodies, has empowered Italian presidents, demonstrating how the environment can be key to understanding trajectory as well as to building and losing capital.

[1] Granatstein, J. L., & Hillmer, N. (1999). Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada’s Leaders. HarperCollins Publishers.

[2] Sheppard, S. (1998). Ranking New Zealand’s prime ministers. Political Science, 50(1), 72-89.

[3] Strangio, P. (2013). Evaluating prime-ministerial performance: The Australian experience. In: Strangio, P., Hart, P. T., & Walter, J. (Eds.). Understanding prime-ministerial performance: Comparative perspectives. OUP Oxford. 264-290.

[4] Theakston, K. and Gill, M. (2006). Rating 20th-century British Prime Ministers. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 8(2): 193-213.

[5] Thomas, P., & Webb, P. (2005). The Presidentialization of Politics. A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[6] Karvonen, L. (2010). The Personalization of Politics: A Study of Parliamentary Democracies. London: ECPR Press.

[7] Calise M. (2010). Il partito personale. I due corpi del leader Bari: Laterza.; Musella, F. (2012). Il premier diviso. Italia tra presidenzialismo e parlamentarismo. Milano: Egea.; Cotta, M. and Marangoni, F. (2015). Il Governo. Bologna: Il Mulino.

[8] Amoretti, F., & Giannone, D. (2011). La presidenzializzazione contesa. XXV Convegno SISP, Palermo, Settembre, 8-10.

[9] Elgie, R. (1995). Political Leadership in Liberal Democracies. London: Macmillan Press.

[10] Pasquino, G. (2003). The government, the opposition, and the president of Republic under Berlusconi. Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 8(4): 485-499.

[11] Sartori, G. (1994). Comparative Constitutional Engineering. An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes. New York: New York University Press.

[12] Bennister, M., t’ Hart, P. and Worthy, B. (2015). Assessing the authority of political office-holders: The Leadership Capital Index. West European Politics, 3(38): 417-440.