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The Quest for Uncontested Power: How Presidents’ Personality Traits Leads to Constitutional Change in the Western Hemisphere

Arana-Araya, Ignacio (2016) The Quest for Uncontested Power: How Presidents’ Personality Traits Leads to Constitutional Change in the Western Hemisphere. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Does it matter who the president is? If so, how does it matter? Most political science research that analyzes the presidency treats the individual differences of presidents as “residual variance.” I challenge this approach arguing that presidents’ decisions are shaped by their individual differences. I test the argument examining which presidents attempt to make constitutional changes to increase their powers or relax their term limits. Considering presidents who were governing by 1945, thirty eight leaders of the Western Hemisphere have made such attempts forty eight times. I hypothesize that presidents who are risk prone and have an assertive personality are more likely to try to change their country's legal charter. I answer the research question using a novel dataset of personality traits and background characteristics for 315 presidents who governed between 1945 and 2012. The dataset integrates information from a survey distributed to 911 experts from 26 nationalities, the coding of 13 individual characteristics of the leaders and semi-structured interviews conducted with 21 former presidents. The empirical analyses support the two hypotheses in the cases of presidents that try to change their powers, while the leaders’ assertiveness also proves to be a relevant cause of their attempts to relax their term limits. Interestingly, the individual differences of presidents have a stronger explanatory power than complementary explanations of constitutional reforms (i.e., institutional and contextual variables).
This study makes important contributions. First, it advances the frontier of studies on the presidency by revealing how the uniqueness of presidents explain political outcomes. Second, it helps to integrate the current divide between quantitative and qualitative studies on the presidency. Third, its interdisciplinary approach provides a deeper understanding of institutional change. Current explanations of this foundational question in the social sciences remain incomplete because they have neglected the role of powerful individuals. Finally, this study proposes to make significant progress in understanding the relation between represented and their elected representatives, by helping to show how the citizens can use the individual differences of political candidates to anticipate how presidents will perform in office.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Arana-Araya, Ignacioiga3@pitt.eduIGA3
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairPérez-Liñán, Aníbalasp27@pitt.eduASP27
Committee MemberMorgenstern, Scottsmorgens@pitt.eduSMORGENS
Committee MemberCarey,
Committee MemberBorzutzky,
Committee MemberMorrison,
Date: 15 January 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 10 September 2015
Approval Date: 15 January 2016
Submission Date: 27 November 2015
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 257
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Political Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Presidents, personality traits, constitutional change, Western Hemisphere
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 20:27
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2021 06:15


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