Presidential policymaking, 1877-2020

Aaron R. Kaufman, Jon C. Rogowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While presidents frequently create new policies through unilateral power, empirical scholarship generally focuses on executive orders and overlooks other categories of directives. We introduce data on more than 50,000 unilateral directives issued between 1877 and 2020 and use machine learning techniques to characterize their substantive importance and issue areas. Our measures reveal significant increases in unilateral activity over time, driven largely by increases in foreign affairs and through the substitution of memoranda for executive orders. We use our measures to formally evaluate the historical development of the unilateral presidency and reassess theoretical claims about public opinion and unilateral power. Our research provides new evidence about variation in the use of presidential authority and opens new avenues for empirical inquiry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPolitical Science Research and Methods
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • administrative presidency
  • American political development
  • executive orders
  • machine learning
  • presidential power
  • text analysis
  • unilateral action

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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