Leaders, elections, and preemptive bargaining

From the archives. I posted this one around Halloween, and it’s self-promotion of the most blatant sort…

Dan Drezner’s Halloween post on horror, fear, etc. in IR has an interesting tidbit about the Tea Party that reminded me of a chapter in my dissertation that’s currently under review in a (quite drastically) different form. You can find it on the Research page; it’s called “Leadership Turnover as a Commitment Problem.” Drezner makes the point that foreign fear of a Tea Party takeover (and Sarah Palin presidency) might lead other countries to give the United States a little more of what it wants internationally, perhaps to bolster the incumbent and his party in office.

Turns out my paper has a little to say about this, a phenomenon I label “preemptive appeasement.” The story goes something like this: when an incumbent might be followed by a successor I’d rather not deal with, I might try to give the incumbent a “win” in order to help his reelection chances that I’d otherwise by happy to deny him. This does require a few things, though I’ll give the two most relevant: (1) whatever “win” I give him must make a sufficiently large difference in boosting his chances of staying in office (so it’s got to be a salient issue that the voting public really cares about); and (2) the successor mustn’t be too different from the incumbent, lest I just decide to fight a war to lock-in whatever I can before the successor takes office.

So Drezner’s right that this is a possibility, and, as he suggests, a Chinese decision to let the yuan appreciate further might be one of those consequential issues that makes “preemptive appeasement” an attractive option. Whether it’s foreign monetary policy or not, though, this will certainly be interesting to watch if Obama’s numbers dip ahead of the 2012 election…

Addendum. Of course, we can also see something of the opposite, where you deny an incumbent, or a party, that valuable “win” in order to ensure that he/she doesn’t do well in the next election, which is reportedly why Khrushchev refused to bargain with Eisenhower over Francis Gary Powers ahead of the election of 1960: he wanted to make sure that Ike’s VP, Nixon, had one fewer advantage over Kennedy in the upcoming election…wonder how often that occurs?

1 thought on “Leaders, elections, and preemptive bargaining

  1. Pingback: In the shadow of the successor « The Wolf Den

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