Do New Leaders Make a Difference?: Executive Succession and Public Policy Under Capitalism and Socialism

Do New Leaders Make a Difference?: Executive Succession and Public Policy Under Capitalism and Socialism

by Valerie Bunce


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691614991
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/14/2014
Series: Princeton Legacy Library , #633
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.40(d)

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Do New Leaders Make a Difference?

Executive Succession and Public Policy Under Capitalism and Socialism

By Valerie Bunce


Copyright © 1981 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-07631-7


Changing Leaders and Changing Policies

It is widely presumed ... that important system developments ... are connected with changes in the political elite. — John Nagle (1977)

Students of Soviet and American politics have tended to study [their] own system as an end in itself. The esoteric cult of Kremlinology on the one hand has been matched by the worship of American uniqueness on the other. — Samuel Huntington and Zbigniew Brzezinski (1963)


In the fall of 1976 the United States was entering the final stretch of that quadrennial "marathon" (Witcover, 1977) known as the Presidential election. The nominee of the Democratic Party, Jimmy Carter, had in the space of two years moved from virtual nonentity (Jimmy "who?") to become the leading contender for the office of President. An endless round of primaries and numerous public appearances had seemingly convinced the electorate that Carter was the best the Democrats had to offer and the man most suited to occupying the Oval Office for the next four years.

However, despite their continuous exposure to the candidate, the electorate and the stalwarts of the Democratic Party seemed to have some misgivings about Jimmy Carter. The main source of discomfort revolved around the question of predictability. What would Carter do once he was elected? The fact that he was an "outsider," an untested political amateur, made him at the same time exciting and yet suspect. While he was not "tainted" by a long career in Washington — a definite asset in 1976 — he was at the same time unpredictable and inexperienced — a decided liability.

By contrast, his opponent, Gerald Ford, was a familiar and experienced politician. This meant, in his case as well, a number of trade-offs in terms of his appeal to the electorate. While some voters saw his political experience as good because it implied that he was competent and predictable, others felt that such a background would lead to stagnation in public policy.

Thus, while in some respects the 1976 Presidential election could be characterized as unusual, in this one aspect — the tension between wanting a known quantity, yet desiring "politics as unusual" — the election was in fact typical. As in past elections, the voters had to decide between a stable transfer of power and a more uncertain succession, between continuity or change in personnel and public policies, and, finally, between a more experienced leader as opposed to a political novice. The decisive issue in the 1976 election, then, was an issue that had dominated previous elections as well: how much policy change would the electorate tolerate for the next four years?

A similar issue underscored a very different succession going on at the same time halfway around the globe: the battle for the mantle of Mao Zedong, who had died in September, 1976. As with the American case, in the Chinese succession political routines were held in suspension while various contenders jockeyed for position. The rhetoric in the political arena took on much the same cast as it had in the American marathon; discussions of specific government actions were interspersed with broader philosophical exchanges about the proper nature of public policy in a socialist state and the overall performance of China since 1949. As with Carter and Ford, so Chinese contenders for power argued their cases in terms of continuity and of change in public policy in the future — the amount they felt China needed and the amount they felt the people wanted. And, in both successions, the answers to these questions influenced which successor eventually won and the amount of policy change that occurred after the transfer of power.

Succession and Policy Change

The fact that both the Chinese and the American successions — despite their very different contexts and processes — revolved around the issue of policy innovation says a great deal about the extent to which all changes in leadership, wherever they occur, are thought to involve as well changes in public policy. This, of course, is something that citizens and politicians know very well. Indeed, they both monitor succession closely precisely because of its implications for change in the system and in policy priorities. What counts in succession, then, is not so much the appearance of new faces, but rather the fact that these new faces may do new things.

Ironically enough, this rather obvious point has been lost on political scientists. They have worked from the assumption that succession somehow "matters" and have, as a result, focused most of their research efforts on detailing the actual struggle for power — what the Soviets call "kto-kogo" (who over whom) (see, for example, Butler and Stokes, 1974; Keech and Matthews, 1976; Burling, 1974; Polsby and Wildavsky, 1971; Rush, 1968). To take one typical example, Nelson Polsby and Aaron Wildavsky (1971) have written a 332-page book concerned with Presidential elections, yet they devoted a mere 6 pages to what they perceive to be the policy ramifications of the electoral process. Scholars have, therefore, reduced succession to the status of a dependent variable, a process that needs to be described and explained rather than one which acts on the political environment. Political scientists can speak authoritatively about voting behavior, elite-recruitment, campaigns, and general patterns of elite turnover, but they have considerably less to say about the amount of policy change that resulted from these processes. Such a truncated notion of succession — emphasizing the "who" and the "how" — has meant little concern for what is an equally, if not more important question: so what?

It is precisely with this issue — the impact of succession in East and West — that this book is concerned. What difference does it actually make when one leader succeeds another? Is this merely a personnel shift that occurs within the context of an ongoing policy process — as many have argued with respect to Western elections — or does succession have important policy ramifications beyond a simple transfer of political power — as is often asserted by communist area specialists? To what extent and how does succession affect policy priorities in West and East? Do they march on as before, unencumbered by the transition to new decision-makers, or do new priorities evolve in response to the new governing team? In short, is leadership succession, through elections or coups d'état, a crisis with dramatic policy effects, an institutionalized mechanism that periodically readjusts policies to new needs and demands, or is it a process that merely continues previous practices, essentially placing old priorities in new bottles?

It is with these issues, then, having to do, not with the mechanics of succession or the drama that unfolds as contestants vie for power, but rather with the policy shifts that occur in its wake, that this work is concerned. In this sense, I am interested here in answering what is the most obvious, and indeed the most common, question that one can pose about political leadership, a question which has been asked by philosophers and queens since Aristotle's time. That question is: do new leaders make a difference?

In seeking an answer to this question, I will deal with two related issues. The first has to do with the linkage between succession processes and policy-making: that is, the extent to which the process by which leaders are circulated sets in motion certain changes in the policy environment — in its participants, agenda, clienteles, and pressures — which in turn affect policy outcomes. I therefore do not conceptualize succession as a mere replacement of governing officials, but rather as a complex process which alters the policy environment in certain ways and, perhaps, policy priorities as well.

A second and related issue is one that has in recent years become a point of contention among policy analysts and among elite theorists. Indeed, it lies at the heart of competing paradigms within the social sciences as a whole. That issue is the relative importance of individuals versus their environments, or, in the terrain we are considering, leaders versus their contexts. To what extent can we explain political phenomena, such as policy priorities, as resulting from the impact of leaders as opposed to other forces emanating from the structure within which they make decisions? To paraphrase Fred Greenstein (1969:51-55), are leaders "dispensable" actors and actresses, or do they shape the decisions they oversee?

In the course of assessing the policy impact of succession, this study will necessarily address this question. First, I can say something about the importance of leaders, simply because I am speaking about the effects of new leaders and hence establishing to some degree the parameters of elite influence. Second, in order to establish those parameters, I focus on how the policy environment changes as it moves from a condition within which the leadership stratum is stable to a condition wherein leadership is in flux. In tracing these changes, I will assess how and to what degree leaders versus their environments shape policy priorities. Thus, in understanding the linkage between succession rites and policy processes, and in trying to provide some control cases where succession did not occur, I necessarily will face the issue of leader dispensability.

However, this is not to suggest that this book will in any way be definitive. As is always the case, one cannot easily disentangle the effects of what historians call "great people" versus "social forces." The problem is that leaders never operate in a vacuum, and this truism holds even when one looks at succession. As noted above, succession is not simply a circulation of elites; it is also a reorientation of the policy environment. Thus, while one can make logical arguments about the mix of leadership and environmental effects when routine policy-making is replaced by the politics of succession, one cannot be absolutely sure about the generalizations that are made. However, given the degree to which the impact of succession does say something about the impact of leadership and environment and its variance under different conditions, I will at least be suggestive on this important issue.

The two major concerns in this book, then, will be to assess the effects of leadership succession on the policy process and the priorities that evolve, and to provide some evidence on the relative effects of leaders and their environments on policy-making under conditions of elite flux and elite stability. I will examine both issues by looking at the general nature of the policy process and the changes it undergoes when one leader succeeds another in a variety of political contexts, primarily in the United States and the Soviet Union in the postwar period, but also, respectively, in other bourgeois democratic and socialist states. Thus, I hope to be able to answer, not just whether new leaders make a difference in East and West, but also what range and forms that impact takes around the world. On a general level, is succession more a force for policy change in socialist than in polyarchical states, and how does that affect the policy process in both contexts when the leadership stratum moves from stability to change? Within bourgeois democratic states, how does the linkage between elections and public policy vary according to, for example, differing types of party systems and policy arrangements? To what extent, when focussing on the socialist bloc, does one find variations in policy after succession, depending on now regularized the succession process is? It is these kinds of questions, specifying the particular parameters of succession as a mechanism of policy change, and the comparative influences of leaders versus their contexts on decision-making, that I will address in this book.

Just as a wide variety of systems and decisional contexts is necessary to get at the range of the effects that succession and elites can have, so a number of approaches is important to addressing these kinds of questions. This study is decidedly empirical, but that does not mean that it relies wholly on quantitative analysis. Rather, a variety of evidence is employed, ranging from numerical assessments to some case studies of particular leaders in particular times dealing with particular policies. The combination of case studies, illustrative examples, and quantitative analysis is necessary, in my view, if we are to go beyond simple correlations and deal with succession and decision-making as the complex processes they are. Correlations "hint" at linkages, but only theory and case studies can tell us about the nature of those linkages. It is hoped, then, that by combining quantitative analysis with case studies, I will be able to look at a variety of public policies and to understand the relationship between new leaders and the policy process.

The Impact of Succession: The Western Democracies

Before one can begin to evaluate the effects of leadership turnover on public policy, it would be useful to set out some reasonable expectations concerning the linkage between succession and policy change in bourgeois democratic and socialist systems. How and how much should elite changeover affect policy priorities in these two types of polities, given what is known about the nature of the succession process, and the elites and their policy environment?

If we turn first to the Western case, a simple extrapolation from the literature on democratic political culture, campaigns, and decision-making in pluralist systems would lead one to hypothesize that elections would not result in new policy priorities. Indeed, in the few cases where scholars have engaged in such prognostications (but with little or no evidence), there seems to be a consensus — among mainstream social scientists as well as among critical theorists — that liberal democratic elections "contribute to the defense of things as they are" (Dolbeare, 1974:80, also see Edelman, 1964; Beglov, 1971). Thus, because of "the political culture of bargaining and consensus" (Braybrooke and Lindblom, 1965:73), the extent to which campaigns discourage the development of new issues and innovative candidates (Rosen, 1974; Downs, 1957; Kirchheimer, 1966; Sartori, 1968; Anichkin, 1972), and the conflict and complexity embedded in the decision process (Braybrooke and Lindblom, 1969; Wildavsky, 1974, 1975), one would anticipate that executive succession should have little influence on the policy process. Incrementalism would seem to hold sway, even in the aftermath of an election.

Or would it? If one works from a different stream of the literature — that is, Presidential memoirs, policy case studies, detailed accounts of campaigns, and general theories of innovation — a rather different hypothesis suggests itself. It can be argued that one cannot generalize from all the literature on the "routines of politics" (see Sharkansky, 1970) to the nature of decision-making during a new chief executive's initial period in office. In fact, decision-making in the White House or Whitehall seems to follow a certain temporal rhythm, reflecting "differences of pace, attitudes, objectives and responses" (Hess, 1977:43). Just as one can compare different leaders, then, so one can compare how leaders, their power and their priorities, change as they move from the beginning to the end of their terms. There may not be a great deal of justification, therefore, for assuming that decision-making always adheres to the incremental model (with its implied overwhelming resource and political constraints), especially when the focus is on the honeymoon period.


Excerpted from Do New Leaders Make a Difference? by Valerie Bunce. Copyright © 1981 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

  • FrontMatter, pg. i
  • Contents, pg. vii
  • List of Tables, pg. ix
  • Acknowledgments, pg. xi
  • Introduction, pg. 1
  • 1. Changing Leaders and Changing Policies, pg. 12
  • 2. Methodology, pg. 39
  • 3. Changing Leaders and Changing Policies: The Western States, pg. 59
  • 4. Leadership Succession and Welfare Policy in the United States: A Case Study of the Impact of Elections on Public Policy, pg. 91
  • 5. The Impact of Elite Succession: The Socialist States, pg. 140
  • 6. Leadership Change and Policy Innovation: A Case Study of the Impact of Succession on Soviet Postwar Agricultural Policy, pg. 179
  • 7. Conclusion: Policy Cycles and Leadership Succession, pg. 222
  • Appendix, pg. 257
  • References, pg. 261
  • Index, pg. 293

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