Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2016

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Political Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



By definition, in a separation of powers system, policy is made jointly by branches of government who are held accountable separately. And yet, there has been a scholarly debate on whether, in practice, branches of government decide policy jointly or are held accountable separately. In this dissertation, I present three essays exploring policymaking and accountability by highlighting the effects of institutional arrangements in presidential systems. My first essay studies the success of legislative majorities at determining policy choices. Although, in theory, legislative and executive branches must concur for policies to be enacted, empirical research, especially on Latin American cases, suggests that it is common for the executive to make decisions unilaterally. To the contrary, I argue that, if presidents and legislatures are at odds with each other, the balance of formal powers ascribed to the president and the assembly can be used to understand important policy choices, including the allocation of government expenditures. Looking at 12 Latin American democracies for the past 20 years, I find that when the median member and the president ideologically diverge, the degree to which the spending priorities of the majority are likely to be reflected in budget outcomes varies considerably across policymaking institutions. My second essay explores the extent to which policymaking institutions impact individual citizens' ability to hold the executive and the legislative branches accountable for their policy decisions. I theorize that individual citizens will evaluate a branch of government controlled by ideologically distant elected officials in a particularly negative way when it possesses the institutional powers necessary to change policy in its preferred direction. Looking at 11 Latin American democracies and relying on 17 AmericasBarometer surveys, I find that institutional designs affect individual citizens' perceptions of the work conducted by the president and the legislature and, as a result, how they attribute responsibility for their actions. Finally, in my third essay, I focus on constitutional courts, often created to keep elected branches in check. Theoretical and empirical research suggests that it is common for constitutional courts to remain marginalized from the policymaking process because of the hurdles they face when confronting the elected branches of government. However, I show that even in the absence of these hurdles justices have incentives to rationally anticipate the actions of the elected branches to avoid having their decisions overridden. Analyzing the behavior of justices sitting in the Constitutional Court of Colombia in over 2,000 constitutional review cases, I find that individual justices are more likely to vote in favor of striking down legislation when the government lacks enough support to pass a constitutional amendment overriding them than when the government has the capacity to overrule them.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Brian F. Crisp

Committee Members

Matthew Gabel, Jeff Gill, Jacob Montgomery, Ernesto Calvo


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/doi:10.7936/K7N014X8

Available for download on Saturday, August 15, 2116