For Barack Obama, maybe getting nothing passed in Congress isn't so bad after all.
- By Joshua E. KeatingJoshua E. Keating is an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Since the new, Republican-dominated Congress was sworn in at the beginning of 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama has seen his domestic agenda stalled, his foreign-aid budget slashed, his signature victory — last year’s health-care bill — threatened with repeal, and his government brought to the verge of a shutdown. But maybe he should look on the bright side.
Historically, American presidents have been much more popular during times of divided government. Over the last half-century, voters have been about 17 percent more likely to approve of the commander in chief’s performance when Congress is controlled by the opposing party, according to a 2002 study in the Journal of Politics. Political scientists typically attributed this to the fact that voters tend to be more likely to assign blame than praise: When the president is less powerful, there’s less reason to criticize him.
But what does this mean on foreign affairs, where the president has more power to act independently of Congress and thus should, by all rights, be the one to blame when things go wrong? In fact, as political scientists Brian Newman and Kevin Lammert of Pepperdine University found in a recent paper published in Presidential Studies Quarterly, the effect is slightly more pronounced when it comes to foreign policy: Voters are 18 percent more likely to approve of the president’s handling of world affairs during a period of divided government. It’s possible that voters are simply unaware of the president’s greater control over foreign policy. The authors also suggest that during times of international crisis — after the 9/11 attacks or during the first Gulf War, for instance — the president and Congress tend to work more closely together, something voters usually support.
A few days after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Obama was benefiting from this effect: Fifty-one percent of Americans approved of his foreign policy, according to a May 5 Quinnipiac poll, compared with 41 percent at the end of March. If the numbers drop again, he’ll only have himself to blame.
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.| Passport |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The List |