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Investigating the President: Committee Probes and Presidential Approval, 1953–2006


Members of Congress have long sought to combat assertions of presidential power and alleged executive misconduct through committee investigations. But are such investigations mere political theater, or do they have systematic effects on the course of politics? We argue that congressional investigations of the executive branch damage the president's support among the public, making investigations a useful tool in interbranch battles. Marshaling an original data set of more than 3,500 investigative hearings and over 50 years of public opinion data, we show that increased investigative activity in the hearing room significantly decreases the president's job approval rating. A survey experiment both confirms our assertion that investigations decrease public support for the White House and shows that committee-led charges of misconduct have a greater influence on public opinion than identical charges not attributed to a congressional actor. Copyright © Southern Political Science Association 2014.

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