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Energy versus safety: unilateral action, voter welfare, and executive accountability

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2021

Benjamin S. Noble*
Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA
*Corresponding author., Email:


Does increasing executive power necessarily decrease accountability? To answer this question, I develop a two-period signaling model comparing voter welfare in two separation-of-powers settings. In one, the executive works with a median legislator to change policy; in the other, the executive chooses between legislation or unilateral action. Both politicians may have preferences that diverge from the voter's, yet I find that increasing executive power may increase accountability and welfare, even in some cases when the legislator is more likely to share the voter's preferences than the executive. Unilateral power allows a congruent executive to overcome gridlock, implement the voter's preferred policy, and reveal information about the politicians’ types—which can outweigh the risks of a divergent executive wielding power for partisan ends.

Original Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the European Political Science Association

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