Department of Political Science and International Relations
University of San Diego
Abstract Conventional wisdom has long held that newly elected presidents have a so-called “honeymoon” with the Congress. Recent research has modified this conventional wisdom by showing that only presidents who face divided government have higher win rates during the first hundred days of their first year in office than during other periods. Existing work, though, does not identify the mechanism that produces this effect. In this preliminary paper, we search for the origins of the honeymoon effect by comparing Members’ of Congress presidential support scores in a president’s first and second years in office. We find that measuring the honeymoon effect at the level of individual Members of Congress gives a very different picture of who had a honeymoon, and that the honeymoon seems to be driven by increased presidential support from marginally party-loyal Members of both parties during the first year in office.
In this paper we search for the origins of the president’s honeymoon with Congress by examining the behavior of individual Members of Congress. The traditional honeymoon hypothesis is that the immediate post-inaugural period is often characterized by rhetoric of bipartisan cooperation, a coming-together after a divisive election. During the first year a new president has not had many opportunities to make enemies or alienate potential allies, and so he might win the support early on of people who will oppose him later in his term. Therefore, the honeymoon effect might be due to an initially high level of popular and professional prestige, and because of deference from Members of Congress who will later become opponents (Neustadt 1990; Mueller 1973). This implies that some Members of Congress, perhaps marginally partisan Members of both parties, initially support the president out of a sense of deference to his election, and gradually come to oppose his policies. If this explanation for the existence of a presidential honeymoon with Congress is correct, we should be able to observe over-time changes in degree to which individual Members of Congress support the president’s positions on roll call votes. If presidents do have higher support scores during their first year (a honeymoon) but are not uniformly supported more in their first year by a particular group of Members of Congress, then any added successes in their first year must be due to their more effective coalition-building in their first year, and not to any systematic deference by Members of Congress.