Featured Authors: Sylvia Gaylord and Lúcio Rennó

PSQ prides itself on publishing scholarship created by the best and brightest in their respective fields. To highlight some of these exciting contributors and provide an in-depth look at the broader work our authors do, we bring you our Featured Author interview series.

 
Our June 2015 Featured Authors are Sylvia Gaylord and Lúcio Rennó, who recently published “Opening the Black Box: Cabinet Authorship of Legislative Proposals in a Multiparty Presidential System.”

GaylordSylvia Gaylord received her PhD in Political Science from Northwestern University in 2006. She is an assistant professor in the Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO, USA. Her research interests are Brazilian executive-legislative relations with disciplinary concentrations in political economy and quantitative methods.

Renno

Lúcio Rennó received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh in 2004. He is an associate professor in the Political Science Institute of the University of Brasilia. His research interests include political institutions, electoral behavior, public opinion, and social inequalities in Latin America.

 

Q: What initially sparked your interest in multi-party cabinets in presidential systems?

A: The intuition that multi-party cabinets are more than side payments for political support drives our interest in the inner workings of the presidency. The ideological weakness of political parties and the hard bargains that underpin Brazil’s coalition presidentialism have led to the idea that politicians lack policy aspirations when joining cabinet office or that these are suppressed by the dominance of the president’s party. The interviews we conducted of ministerial staff indicate a significant involvement and investment in the content of policy initiatives, and motivated us to explore further the policy side of governing coalitions that we suspect exists in Brazil (and in other countries where multi-party coalitions occur) but is hard to discern because of the opaque qualities of the presidency.

Furthermore, it is bewildering that such powerful actors in Brazilian politics as the presidency and the cabinet are seldom studied. In part, this is because comprehensive data is difficult to come by. By focusing on the authorship and co-authorship of bills within the Executive Branch, we have found a way to overcome this limitation and provide insights about processes of cooperation and competition among ministers and parties in the Executive Branch.

Q: What are the key questions in the study of the president and his cabinet’s policy decisions?

A: The questions we pursue seek to deconstruct presidential power, by asking, for example, how is labor divided inside a presidency with a dominant president that never has a majority? The question of legislative support for a minority yet powerful president has been amply addressed, but the relationship between president and cabinet remains poorly understood.

We believe that there is more to cabinet function than the exchange of the office for legislative support and that the question to ask is not whether ministers have policy aspirations, but under what conditions multi-party cabinets in presidential systems act as collective policy-making bodies? While cabinet activity is highly centralized in a few ministries, the volume of legislative activity emanating from the presidency indicates more collaboration among ministries than meets the eye.

Hence, we are interested in classical questions political scientists address: who participates in the decision-making process? Do a few actors concentrate power? Who constructs the government´s legislative agenda within the executive branch? How do different parties within a coalition cooperate in the construction of a shared agenda?

Q: What kind of response do you hope your work elicits from your readers? Ideally, what kind of critical thought do you hope your article inspires?

We hope our research inspires other efforts to collect comprehensive data of presidential activity in Brazil and other Latin American presidential systems that allow testing of hypotheses about structure and other institutional features of the presidency. Ideally, new research will start filling in the details of the trajectory of policy initiatives inside the presidency and give us a better understanding of the relationships between presidents and ministers.

We also hope our research inspires interest in the strategic behavior of actors within the presidency. We think the field of presidential politics in Latin America would benefit from research that explores the bargaining needs of powerful presidents and their efforts to build structures within the presidency to best leverage their influence. Comparative research across countries could also add variation in institutional attributes that is by definition absent in single country studies and can generate new insights into the structure of incentives and constraints that shape presidential behavior.

Finally, we hope our study contributes to a growing research agenda on the role of coalitions under presidentialism, in particular, to an understanding of the process of construction of the government´s legislative agenda and the interplay between competing interests across (and within) parties that compose the coalition.