William Howell Wins APSA Award

William Howell’s 2003 book Power Without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action earned wide critical acclaim when it was originally published. Its enduring impact has now been recognized by the American Political Science Association (APSA), the nation’s premier organization for political scientists. 

Howell, the Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics at Chicago Harris, will receive the inaugural Legacy Award at APSA’s annual meeting in September. The honor, given by the Presidency and Executive Politics section of the APSA, recognizes a living author for a book, essay or article published at least 10 years prior to the award year that has made a continuing contribution to the intellectual development of the fields of presidency and executive politics.

“I am delighted that Will Howell has been selected to receive the Legacy Award for Power Without Persuasion,” said Chicago Harris Dean Daniel Diermeier. “The book is a prime example of the kind of scholarship we value at Chicago Harris: rigorous, path-breaking and with enduring impact.”

Power Without Persuasion, a monograph that grew out of Howell’s dissertation at Stanford University, turned on its head the long-held belief that the president of the United States has power to implement his policy agenda only so far as he is able to negotiate with Congress or act with the backing of public opinion. The book argued that presidents can and do use executive power more broadly, especially when Congress is unable to pass significant legislation.

“A key claim in this book is that when Congress is gridlocked, presidents break out on their own agendas,” Howell said. “If Congress can’t pass its own agenda or the president’s, it can’t overturn his directives, either.”

Howell says he has been pleased to see his research on the subject remain relevant over the years. “It has been really gratifying to watch many young scholars grappling with the arguments put forward—to see them validated and sometimes vanquished,” Howell said. “It’s a great honor.”

George Krause, a professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the committee that chose Howell for the first Legacy Award, said Power Without Persuasion wasn’t the first time a scholar argued that presidents were able to work around Congressional or popular resistance. But, he said, Howell drew on insights that other works lacked and significantly changed the way political scientists view presidential power.

“The president’s authority does not rest only in the acquiescence of Congress or the goodwill and standing of the people,” Krause said. “The opposite had been a long-held belief for more than 40 years.” According to Krause, the publication of Howell’s book helped upend this consensus, paving the way for new insights about the nature of unilateral executive action. “He upped the game considerably.”

Howell’s other books have explored a range of issues, with a particular emphasis on separation of powers and the American presidency. The Education Gap: Vouchers and Urban Schools, co-written with Paul Peterson (Brookings Institution Press, 2002), brought academic rigor to the highly polarized debate over school choice in America. He has also written While Dangers Gather: Congressional Checks on Presidential War Powers, with Jon Pevehouse (Princeton University Press, 2007); Thinking about the Presidency: The Primacy of Power (Princeton University Press, 2013); and The Wartime President: Executive Influence and the Nationalizing Politics of Threat, with Saul Jackman and Jon Rogowski (University of Chicago Press, 2013). 

Howell’s earlier books have been recognized for excellence as well. The Wartime President won the 2014 Riker Award, given by the APSA for the best book on political economy published during the past three years. While Dangers Gather won both the 2008 Neustadt Award for the best book on the American presidency and the D. B. Hardeman Prize for the best book on Congress published in the prior calendar year.

Howell is currently researching the ways that war redefines and reshapes executive power, and he is also exploring President Barack Obama’s influence on state policymaking, particularly through federal waivers that have enabled states to ignore certain aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act.

—Brian Wallheimer