What is the Driving Force? Exploring the Many Factors that lead to the issuing of Executive Orders.


Over the course of the semester, we had the goal of exploring Executive Orders. We were curious to research why Executive Orders were issued and  if there were any outside influences on them. Our first step in this was to see what the experts had to say. It appears that there is a lot of data and previous research on Executive Orders and not only how they relate to public opinion, but what other factors influence Executive Orders. In our own research, we explored public opinion data on past Presidents in relation to Executive Orders issued, party affiliation, and Modern vs Older Presidents.Also, by exploring Executive Orders overtime, we aim to shed light on why the trend has become that as time progresses, Presidents issue more Executive Orders rather than engage in the standard Legislative Process. By accumulating data on these potentially crucial factors to Public Opinion, we are able to evaluate what has an impact on Executive Orders issue in our attempt to answer the overarching question: Why are Executive Orders issued?

Findings and Figures:

All Data Sources are Located in the References Below

Is it a Party Thing?

It appears that there is some correlation between party affiliation and the amount of Executive Orders issued. It looks like Democratic Presidents tend to issue more Executive Orders on a yearly basis. This is including the fact I excluded FDR given his massive number of Executive Orders issued. Although there is many reasons for this trend, it is still interesting to see this. The top three issuers of Executive Orders (Truman, Kennedy, and Carter) were all Democratic Presidents. 

Popularity Contest?

Although we believed we would find some sort of correlation between the number of Executive Orders and Presidential Approval Ratings, it appears that none exist. It is abundantly clear that FDR is a clear outlier with regards to the fact that he issued a massive amount of Executive Orders. This lack of correlation is shown looking at the Johnson Presidency compared to the Clinton Presidency. Both Presidents had 55.1% approval ratings. Although they were similar in this regard, both passed a significantly different number of Executive Orders (62.9 vs 31.6). Next we will look to find any trends with regards to specific Executive Orders in the Obama and Trump Presidencies and public opinion.

Old vs New?

What the Experts Have to Say:

Multiple studies examined which factors lead to importance and remembrance of executive order. This is believed to be how public opinion has effects toward executive orders. One study questions the connection between executive order and public opinion. The study argues that presidents use executive orders as a directive to the public and even as a rhetorical function (Rottinghaus et al., 2015). To look closer at this argument and connection orders and the public, we compared multiple previous literatures investing the same topic. One set of results showed that the executive orders with greater impact appeared to be the ones of greater importance (Warber et al., 2017). This also found that an important variable to be considered in deciding the importance of an executive order is when it is made. Chief executives are more active when they first step into office and before administration can attempt to reverse their orders (Warner et al., 2017). The start of Trump’s term is a prime example of this as seen in his early activity in office in signing executive orders. Another showed more effect on proclamations than executive orders because this is where Congress and the executive branch can disagree and use their own branch’s power along with how many are made during election year (Rottinghaus et al., 2015). This study relates to the findings from another study that saw with high use of executive orders came disapproval; the public may view actions as such as an abuse of power or violation of the separation of powers (Lanier et al., 2018). Long term approval ratings also add to the raise in public opinion. There may not be an immediate change in approval rating because opinion can impact long term if the order is not direct. These findings further add to the association between the use of executive power and approval ratings (Lanier et al., 2018).


After evaluating the data from our own research, and the research done by others, we see here that there is a strong trend in not only the volume of Executive Orders issued, but the importance of the Orders. This troubling trend can also be linked to inability of our recent Congresses to get anything accomplished on a bipartisan level. Our literature review has shown that experts on the subject of Executive Orders are also alarmed about the trend of the increased volume of Executive Orders and although have identified this, have trouble with putting the blame on anything/anyone. Within our data collection we assessed many different potential trends or correlations to discover whether it is party affiliation, public approval, or modern vs early Presidents. Although in some cases data shows some correlation between the factors in question, it is still impossible to draw a definitive conclusion on this subject. With more resources and time, a case by case analysis of particular Presidents particular Executive Orders to understand why they went about issuing one instead of the conventional legislative path. We thank you very much for exploring our web page! Feel free to reach out to us with any questions or recommendations. 

Max May:mmay@muhlenberg.edu

Erin Rogers:erogers@muhlenberg.edu


Lanier, Drew Noble, and Brett Michael Jones. “The Law Public Opinion and the President’s Use of Executive Orders: The Long-Run Impact of Unilateral Powers, 1953-2012.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 48, no. 4 (2018): 845-59. doi:10.1111/psq.12501.

Rottinghaus, Brandon, and Adam L. Warber. “Unilateral Orders as Constituency Outreach: Executive Orders, Proclamations, and the Public Presidency.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 45, no. 2 (2015): 289-309. doi:10.1111/psq.12188.

Warber, Adam L., Yu Ouyang, and Richard W. Waterman. “Landmark Executive Orders: Presidential Leadership Through Unilateral Action.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 48, no. 1 (2017): 110-26. doi:10.1111/psq.12434.

Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, “Executive Orders.” The American Presidency Project. Ed. John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters. Santa Barbara, CA. 1999-2020. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/323876

Jones, Brett, “Public Opinion and the President’s Use of Executive Orders: Aggregate- and Individual-Level Analyses Across Time” (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2004-2019. 4930.