Assessing the policy effects of political leaders: a layered framework

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How should political leaders be evaluated? This article reviews existing approaches and argues that they are insufficiently developed to map the more complex policy effects of political leaders, since they tend to focus on electoral and broader regime level outcomes. In response, it maps out a layered framework based on scientific realism. The layered approach argues that analysis should focus on the effects of leaders within societal structures, formal political institutions, the framing of policy problems as well as policy. The approach requires that we are sensitive to the structure and agency relationships between layers when identifying where leaders brought about policy and political change, as well as the effects on the international system and on other polities. It is proposed that the new approach will help to develop a more complete and nuanced understanding of the policy effects of leaders that will uncover their effects in hidden spaces as well as broader societal shifts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-454
Number of pages18
JournalPolicy Studies
Issue number5-6
Early online date29 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Donald Trump
  • Political leaders
  • Trumpism
  • policy process
  • presidents

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