Featured Author: Richard Waterman

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.


Richard Waterman is Professor of Political Science at the University of Kentucky. His teaching and research interests include the presidency, the bureaucracy, and public policy. He is the author and co-author of several books, including The Changing American Presidency: New Perspectives on Presidential Power and, recently, The Presidential Expectations Gap: Public Attitudes Concerning the Presidency. He can be reached at rwate2@email.uky.edu.

What initially sparked your interest in exploring the loyalty-competence nexus?

My interest was sparked by my dissertation at the University of Houston. I was examining how presidents influence the bureaucracy and my examination of the Nixon and Reagan administrations indicated that loyalty was a primary consideration in their respective appointment strategies. My later work with B. Dan Wood empirically confirmed the importance of appointments in controlling the bureaucracy. I therefore became interested in developing better measures of the loyalty-competence nexus.

What are some of the key questions in the study of the loyalty-competence nexus?

The key questions to date have been whether presidents advance loyalty or competence. It is likely that presidents reward each of these attributes, but not equally. They may prefer to advance loyalty in some agencies at the expense of competence and vice versa. In order to rigorously test this hypothesis with regard to specific agencies, we need reliable measures of loyalty and competence, measures that allow us to determine which candidates exhibit both qualities, as well as those who excel in one or the other. In this current project, we use the resumes submitted by presidential appointees to determine both their relevant skills and their associations with political parties, campaigns, and other political institutions. As such, we are able to evaluate each appointee on two dimensions: loyalty and competence, thus replacing the strict dichotomy that presently exists in much of the literature.

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?

As always, I am hopeful that the present research will encourage other scholars to provide more variable and reliable measures of various presidential characteristics. For us to move forward as a field, we require reliable empirical measures that allow us to quantitatively test theories of presidential leadership. The presidency field has entered a period of astonishing empirical work that is providing new insights into how presidents and the presidency operate. As we develop even better measures, I am optimistic that research in the near future will transform and enrich our understanding of the presidency.