Schier, 11 --- Professor of Political Science at Carleton College (December 2011, Steven E., Presidential Studies Quarterly, “The Contemporary Presidency: The Presidential Authority Problem and the Political Power Trap,” vol. 41, no. 4, Wiley Online Library)
The concept of political capital captures many of the aspects of a president's political authority. Paul Light defines several components of political capital: party support of the president in Congress, public approval of the president's conduct of his job, the president's electoral margin, and patronage appointments (Light 1999, 15). Light derived this list from the observations of 126 White House staff members he interviewed (1999, 14). His indicators have two central uses. First, Light's research reveals that they are central to the “players' perspective” in Washington. That is, those “in the game” view these items as crucial for presidential effectiveness. Second, they relate to many central aspects of political authority as defined by Skowronek. So on both theoretical and practical levels, the components of political capital are central to the fate of presidencies. The data here will reveal that presidents over the last 70 years have suffered from a trend of declining levels of political capital, a trend that is at the heart of their political authority problem.
Many scholars have examined particular aspects of presidential political capital, from congressional support (for example, Bond and Fleisher 1992, 2000; Mayhew 2005; Peterson 1993) to job approval (Brace and Hinckley 1991; Kernell 1978; Nicholson Segura and Woods 2002). From these, we know that presidential job approval is influenced by economic performance, tends to drop over time, and that divided government can boost job approval. Also, job approval and control of Congress by fellow partisans boosts presidential success in floor votes but does not produce more important legislation than does periods of divided government. These “micro” findings, however, comport with a “macro trend” of declining presidential political capital over time. This analysis explores that macro trend and relates it to previous micro findings.