This chapter studies the chief executive, considering the powers of the presidential office and the
structures that constitute the presidency. After reading and reviewing the material in this chapter, the
student should be able to do each of the following:0
Explain the differences between the positions of president and prime minister.
Discuss the approach taken by the Founders in regard to executive power.
Sketch the evolution of the presidency from 1789 to the present.
List and describe the various offices that make up the executive branch.
Review discussions of presidential character, and explain how they relate to the achievements in
office of various presidents.
Enumerate and discuss the various facets—formal and informal—of presidential power.
A president, chosen (indirectly) by the people and with powers derived from a written constitution, has
less power than does a prime minister, even though the latter depends on the support of her or his party
in parliament. The separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, the
distinguishing feature of the political system in the United States, means that the president must
compete with Congress in setting policy and even in managing executive agencies.
Presidential power, though still sharply limited, has grown from its constitutional origins as a result of
congressional delegation, the increased importance of foreign affairs, and public expectations.
Nevertheless, although the presidential office has more power today, the president also faces higher
expectations. As a result, presidential effectiveness depends not on any general grant of authority but on
the nature of the issues to be confronted and the support gained from informal sources of power. Public
opinion and congressional support are extremely important. As a political scientist noted so many years
ago, the president’s primary power is often the power to persuade.
Though the president seemingly controls a vast executive-branch apparatus, only a small proportion of
executive-branch personnel are presidential appointees or nominees. Even these may not be under
presidential control. Moreover, public support, high at the beginning of any new presidency, usually
declines as the term proceeds. Consequently, each president must conserve power (and energy and
time), concentrating these scarce resources to deal with a few matters of major importance. Virtually
every president since Franklin Roosevelt has tried to gain better control of the executive branch—by
reorganizing, by appointing White House aides, by creating specialized staff agencies—but no
president has been satisfied with the results.
In dealing with Congress, the president may be able to rely somewhat on party loyalty. Presidents