The (lack of) Predictability in Obama’s Executive Action

Written on December 29, 2014

One criticism political scientists often get is that there is a pretty strong “conservative” bias in the sense that political science generates a lot of null changes. There was never going to be a Romney upset, there are rarely any very big policy changes, everything just sort of continues along the same path that it has been on for however long. Of course, big things do happen every now and then but we’re just not very good at predicting when it’ll happen or what it will be so we assume minimal change from a day to day basis.

Caution may stop political science from making big predictions but it doesn’t always stop pundits from trying to make these sort of predictions. No one can blame them, they’re fun to read and probably drive page views. Here is one example in Bloomberg News where the author lists five things that Obama could do to “mess with Republicans in 2015.” The thing about the Bloomberg list is that everything except signing a nuclear agreement with Iran is pretty vanilla. The President acting unilaterally on Keystone, campaign finance, or climate change seems highly likely that it would happen. In that way, the article is sort of bland because, even though she is trying to predict what might happen, the actual predictions are cautious.

I’m inclined to think that any further execution action President Obama pursues will include a healthy dose of stuff we didn’t see coming (for another articulation of this point, check out this great article by George Condon). I can’t imagine many people saw the climate change agreement with China occurring. Same with the Cuban re-engagement. The President has freely admitted that he was going to do whatever he could do by himself, most recently in an interview with NPR, so while he’ll probably pursue the things everything thinks he will — he’ll probably keep mixing it up as well. What will those things be? Well, I’m willing to make the prediction that they’ll happen but I have no idea what they’ll be.