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Volden: A formal model of the politics of delegation in a separation of powers system

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Volden. 2002. A formal model of the politics of delegation in a separation of powers system. AJPS 46 (1):111-133.


Studies have come to mixed results when studying whether legislators delegate more under unified or divided government. Intuitively, one would expect more delegation under unifed government (because preferences are aligned). However, Volden reminds us that executives will fight to retain previously delegated power once the government moves from unifed to divided control, especially if th executive's preferences align with the bureaucracy's. Thus, it isn't only preferences that matter: it's (X1) preferences in relation to the status quo and (X2) the possibility of an executive veto. Though Epstein and O'Halloran assert that including an executive veto would not change their comparative statics, Volden presents a model showing the reverse.


  1. Delegation decisions depend on the "agency structure and location" (p 126).
    • During unified government, agencies with preferences close to the president's will get lots of discretion. More moderate (independent) agencies will get less discretion.
    • During divided government, executives will have trouble getting the legislature to increase discretion for their pet agencies, but executive and legislatures may agree to increase discretion for the moderate agencies. "Here, legislators and the executive would both rely upon the discretionary authority of the centrist agency to moderate extreme shocks..." (p 126).
  2. Changes in agency discretion must be examined in light of status quo policies (because the legislature makes offers, but the executive must accept them)
    • When the executive prefers the status quo to the legislature's position, the executive veto can effectively prevent reductions in discretion.
    • When the executive prefers change in the status quo, the legislature has room to maneuver: It can offer policy concessions in exchange for reduced discretion.
  3. "Interactions among institutional actors often result in policy asymmetries upon changes in preferences and political economic conditions" (p 126).
    • I'm not sure what that means.

Research on similar subjects


Comparative PoliticsDivided GovernmentPrincipal-AgentPresidency (US)VetoVeto PlayersBargaining

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