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Leaders and Foreign Policy: Surveying the Evidence

Summary and Keywords

Political Science accounts of international politics downplay the role of political leaders, and a survey of major journals reveals that fewer than 3% of all articles focus on leaders. This is in stark contrast to public discourse about politics, where leadership influence over events is regarded as a given.

This article suggests that, at a minimum, leaders occupy a space in fully specified chains of causality as the aggregators of material and ideational forces, and the transmitters of those forces into authoritative political action. Further, on occasion a more important role is played by the leader: as a crucial causal variable aggregating material and ideational energies in an idiosyncratic fashion and thereby shaping decisions and outcomes.

The majority of the article is devoted to surveying the comparatively small literature on political leaders within International Relations scholarship. The article concludes by inviting our colleagues to be receptive to the idiosyncrasies, as well as the regularities, of statespersonship.

Keywords: leaders, international relations, rational choice, psychology, empirical international relations theory


There are two worlds of politics, so distinct from one another as to constitute alternate realities. In one reality, constructed by the news media and social conversation, leaders loom large. Politics is represented as a stream of policy decisions and diplomacy where choices are many, are crucial, and are determined by a shifting mix of incentives and character. In this world, leaders are the drivers of politics, and hence deserve a good deal of attention.

The second world of politics is constructed by political scientists in the classes they teach and the books and articles they write. Here, leaders are mostly absent. Decisions are cast as mechanistic calculations, or as expressions of the norms and values surrounding the office the leader holds and the state they lead. Individual political figures function as cogs in a machine, their behavior determined by factors beyond their control. Viewed as irrelevant to outcomes, leaders are mostly excluded from disciplinary studies of politics.

This article advances an explanation for the gap between these two worlds of politics, and seeks to provide a framework for navigating between them. The argument is that, at a minimum, leaders occupy a space in fully specified chains of causality as the aggregators of material and ideational forces, and the transmitters of those forces into authoritative political action. On occasion, a more important role is played by the leader: as a crucial causal variable aggregating material and ideational energies in an idiosyncratic fashion and thereby shaping decisions and outcomes.

The majority of the article is devoted to surveying the comparatively small literature on political leaders within International Relations (IR). We conclude by inviting our colleagues to be receptive to the idiosyncrasies, as well as the regularities, of statespersonship.

Establishing and Explaining the Absence of Leaders From International Relations Literature

The front page of The New York Times will, more days than not, carry a story in which a political leader is a central player and the news is reported as the result of their actions. The chances of finding a research article with a similar perspective in the pages of IR journals are considerably lower. As a first step in surveying the literature for this review, we combed every available issue of the four highest-ranked IR journals, International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, International Security, and World Politics (Maliniak, Peterson, Powers, & Tierney, 2012, p. 52) and recorded each time an article was published that met each of the following criteria:

  • Studies leader(s) in the context of interstate relations

  • Is actor-specific (does not assume all leaders/states have the same goals and beliefs)

  • Is empirical (focuses on real-world occurrences rather than deductive theory and purely hypothetical behavior)

  • Contains the term “Leaders” or “Leadership” in the title, abstract, or in the main body of the article (or variations thereof, e.g., “elites”).

Of 6,310 articles published in these four leading journals of the discipline, just 186 (2.9%) met these criteria. Why do so few articles in the major journals address leadership? Any attempt to explain this puzzle will be inevitably partial and perhaps tendentious. Our theory of the case has four elements.

First, there is the sheer momentum of disciplinary dynamics. The very low number of articles on leaders indicates that a small number of scholars are working on the topic. A smaller research community trains fewer graduate students and has fewer opportunities to sympathetically review journal articles that match their research preferences. The dynamic becomes self-reinforcing. With few articles on leaders making it into prestigious journals, young scholars are presented with little career incentive to choose a minority pursuit, and have significant professional incentives to join a larger grouping producing scholarship that is in line with the disciplinary majority.

Second, the influence of the dominant international relations scholar of modern times has been particularly injurious to the study of leaders. Kenneth N. Waltz published two classics of IR scholarship, each exerting a foundational and continuing influence on graduate training and professional research. More than any other scholar, Waltz’s imaginative work stimulated creative thought about recurring patterns of state interaction, recasting the foundations of the discipline as he did so. From the perspective of the study of leaders, though, Waltz’s classic works are either misleading or often misinterpreted, leading to an unnecessary dismissal of the importance of leaders to the explanation of international phenomena.

In Man, the State, and War (1959), Waltz isolated three images, or levels of analysis, of international politics: human nature, domestic political systems, and the international environment. He argued for the third image, the international environment, as the truest cause of international outcomes. His discussion of the first image, human nature, is often cited as proving that leadership does not matter. It does not. Waltz writes of human nature as a constant, good or bad, and makes the uncontroversial argument that a constant cannot, alone, explain the variable outcomes of war, peace, alliance, and enmity that characterize interstate relations. This is of course correct, and yet no scholar of leaders would simply divide them into dichotomous categories of good and bad, based on guesses about the essence of humanity. There are an infinite number of ways to be good and bad, and each political leader will contain elements of both and much else besides. Arguments that rely on Man, the State, and War to dismiss leaders somewhat miss the point: Little contemporary scholarship on leaders would accept as sufficient the concepts contained within Waltz’s account of the first image.

In his second major intervention, Theory of International Politics (1979), Waltz advanced a deeply creative imagining of international politics as governed by the push and pull of an international system, itself the emergent property of state-to-state interactions. This minimalist framework helpfully elaborates some considerations that will recur in the calculations of leaders, but, as Waltz himself insisted, bears little relationship to an account of foreign policy choice, lacking many variables that are crucial to such an undertaking. Nonetheless, the primacy of systemic considerations over individual calculation has often been used by scholars to sideline the study of leaders.

Further, in Theory of International Politics, Waltz successfully advanced a view of theory as resting, above all else, on leverage—the volume of international political outcomes that could be broadly explained by the fewest number of assumptions. For Waltz, this was the sine qua non of theory building. It is a testament to Waltz’s skill in argument and prose that this desideratum has been accepted for decades as not just one—but often the only—characteristic of good theory. As Alexander George and Andrew Bennett (2005) note, though, leverage is more properly seen as one good to be balanced in a trade-off with others such as determinacy, falsifiability, fidelity to reality, and policy relevance.

If parsimony is accepted as the sole criterion for evaluating theory, then the study of leaders will be marginal: The complexity of human decision making allows for only very limited generalizations across cases, and requires a large input of information about the person, their beliefs, and the situation they face, before delivering a plausible rendition of which choices are more or less likely. By contrast, a model such as Waltz’s with only one variable (the distribution of power across the major states) and one constant (the overriding goal of states is to survive) generates a lot of insight—albeit sometimes vague and unsurprising—in return for almost no inputs. The race, then, if run only on the ground of parsimony, is unwinnable by scholars of leadership. If run on other grounds—determinacy, fidelity to reality—they stand a better chance.

Third, the disciplines from which political science borrows most readily have little to say about the idiosyncratic choices of complex figures atop sprawling organizations. Mainstream political science has only an intermittent relationship with personality and cognitive psychology, business and management, and diplomatic and biographical history. Instead, IR, especially in the United States, borrows most of its ideas from economics and sociology.

Those influenced by economics adopt a model of the world that assumes actors who seek, with a high degree of competence, to maximize their benefits in any given situation, whether that is share of the vote, or policy negotiations, or jockeying for power on the international stage. If all the players have the same basic goal and pursue it in the same basic manner, then studying any individual player is wasted energy: energy better spent on understanding the incentives of the situation and deducing from these what the player will do. Those influenced more by sociology argue that individuals, including leaders, are embedded in collective systems of beliefs, practices, and ideas. Again, though, studying the individual is less fertile ground than studying what the group or society in general thinks. Even the most radical scholars, drawn to critical sociologies, do not want to study leaders: They reject settled notions of authority and hierarchy as a matter of principle, and so see the study of the most powerful political figures, most of whom in the United States are white and male, as reinforcing a distribution of authority that should instead be undermined at every opportunity.

Finally, it is possible that very few international events are shaped in important ways by the characteristics of political leaders. Broader forces, material and ideational, may indeed determine the vast majority of happenings. The total of 2.9% of articles focused upon leaders may perfectly reflect a reality in which 97.1% of what happens is determined by non-leader factors. This would suggest that the discipline of IR is correct to focus most of its attention on causal variables other than leaders. A difficulty arises, though, if the instances in which leaders are causally significant are pivotal, and hence disproportionately important in relation to the majority of the time when leaders don’t matter. This issue requires some unpacking, a task we undertake in the section below and return to in the conclusion.

Leadership: Steering and Mirroring Effects

What, then, is the positive case for studying leaders, bridging the gap between the “civilian” construction of politics where they loom so large and the “professional” world of political scientists from which they are mostly absent? Drawing together arguments made by Fred. I Greenstein (1967, 1987, 2004), Valerie Hudson (1990, 2005), and Stephen G. Walker (1977, 1983, 2000; Walker & Post, 2005), we posit the following framework.

  1. 1) We must distinguish between two possible roles for leaders in explanatory statements: (a) as causal mechanisms, (b) as causal variables. In the former case, leaders are conceptualized as the culminating entities in a combined material and ideational chain of forces and ideas encompassing the nature of the international system, state power, international and national norms, patterns of friendship and enmity, domestic political structures and dynamics, and advisory systems and information flows. These forces are aggregated and pooled in the calculations of the political leader, who must transform them into action (or inaction) by issuing (or failing to issue) a decision that falls somewhere on the choice continuum from “do nothing” to “change course entirely.” Much of the time, the leader will make predictable choices based on some compelling combination of the forces just listed. Their choice would, in a counterfactual circumstance, be duplicated in its essentials by most of the other figures who could plausibly have occupied the office they hold. Their behavior is an epiphenomenon of factors external to them. Their role is that of a mechanism transmitting causal energy from inputs to outputs. This is called the “mirroring” effect of leaders. It is necessary for fully specified accounts of international events, but causally slight as leader actions, in this rendering, are epiphenomena of broader forces.

  2. 2) In the latter case (leaders as causal variables), leaders play the role described above but do not, in every instance, interpret and combine the various material and ideational forces in an automatic and unbiased manner. Instead, these forces are perceived, weighed, ordered, and acted upon under at least partial influence of the leader’s personality traits and beliefs about the world. Different leaders cannot be assumed to make similar choices under similar conditions, and therefore their causal role cannot be dismissed without further investigation. One cannot deduce how they will behave without investigation of their individual choice propensities. This position relies upon the veracity, in any given case, of two statements: First, leaders have some capacity for autonomy in their roles; the office they hold affords them both the statutory right and the practical opportunity for injecting something of their own choice into important political decisions. Second, at least some leaders have at least some elements of personality traits, beliefs, and past experiences that are influential upon their actions and vary from a uniform, default leadership stance. If those conditions hold, and neither seems particularly controversial on its face, then we have the potential for leadership effects to go beyond mirroring external forces and to become “steering” effects (Walker & Post, 2005, pp. 63–69). Here, the leader is more than a causal mechanism, and exercises influence as a causal variable operating in a multivariate model with ideational and material forces, interacting with these forces to shape outcomes.

The Contemporary Literature on Leaders

This article is not the first review to notice the absence of leaders from mainstream IR scholarship. At the start of the 21st century there was a call for a “leadership turn” in the study of IR, attempting to promote the argument that influential leaders steer international politics in important ways (Byman & Pollack, 2001; Rosati, 2000).

Daniel L. Byman and Kenneth M. Pollack called for mainstream IR scholars to bring significant states people back into their analysis (2001). They noted that “the policymaking community in Washington takes it as an article of faith that who is the prime minister of Great Britain, the chancellor of Germany, or the king of Saudi Arabia has real repercussions for the United States and the rest of the world” (2001, p. 108). They found it “particularly troubling” that scholars have a “tendency to ignore the role of personalities in international relations” and instead focus on broad impersonal forces. Byman and Pollack attributed this unfortunate tendency to political science being simultaneously “modest” and “arrogant”: combining modest claims about its lack of ability to say useful things about the role of individuals, with arrogant assumptions that politics can be explained without reference to individuals (2001, pp. 108–109).

They provided historical case studies showing that “great men” have influenced international politics, and offered hypotheses about how leaders matter, and under what conditions. They acknowledge the significance of other explanations of international politics (Parasiliti, Byman, & Pollack, 2001), yet contend that if we are to fully explain variations in outcomes then we must look at leaders:

Individuals set the ultimate and secondary intentions of a state … Of course, a country’s strategic position, domestic politics, culture, and other factors—both systemic and domestic—also shape a state’s intentions … however, individuals can often transcend these factors, play them off against one another, or otherwise exercise a direct and decisive influence on state behavior.

(Byman & Pollack, 2001, p. 134)

This is a useful starting point for an in-depth and comprehensive survey of the contemporary (post-2000) literature on leadership. In many fields of study, this would be an impossible task to accomplish in a single article; however, as has been established, studies of leaders appear comparatively infrequently, and so we make at least some claim to have covered the majority of significant works during this time period.

Survey of Journals

Earlier, top-line data was reported from a survey of the four highest-ranked IR journals since their date of first publication. To further explore the record of scholarship on leaders, we extended the study to the top 15 IR journals based upon the rankings in the Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) Project’s 2011 Faculty Survey (Maliniak et al., 2012, p. 52).1 While the number of journals was expanded, the time range for this follow-up inquiry was restricted to post-2000, the aim being to survey contemporary scholarship. From the top 15 journals listed in the “Worldwide Aggregate Journal Results” section of the TRIP project, Foreign Affairs (ranked 4th) Foreign Policy (ranked 9th), and International Affairs (ranked 13th) were excluded due to their semi-scholarly focus (each are essential reads, yet focus on lucid analysis of contemporary affairs over systematic hypothesis testing, and so fall beyond the scope of our review). These journals were replaced with International Studies Review (ranked 17th) and Perspectives on Politics (unranked). Two journals in which most scholarship on leaders has historically appeared, Foreign Policy Analysis and Political Psychology, were added. Results are in Table 1.

Table 1. Articles on leaders appearing in 15 IR journals since 2000.

TRIP rank 2011

TRIP rank 2014

Total number of articles5

Articles on leaders

Leader steering

Leader mirroring


International Organization








International Studies Quarterly








International Security








American Political Science Review








World Politics








European Journal of International Relations








Journal of Conflict Resolution








Review of International Studies








Millennium—Journal of International Studies








American Journal of Political Science








Security Studies








International Studies Review













Perspectives on Politics








Foreign Policy Analysis








Political Psychology












The articles were coded based on a modified version of the previously explained criteria, replacing the “actor-specific” requirement with an “includes leaders as a significant unit of analysis” requirement. This move allowed for the inclusion of articles that posit mirroring (actor-general) effects of leaders as well as those that posit steering (actor-specific) effects.


  • Articles on leaders continue to constitute a very small proportion of the total number of articles published (2%). The pattern in the four journals/long-time frame sample is replicated in the 15 journal/post-2000 data. Byman and Pollack have been largely unsuccessful in refocusing the discipline on the study of leaders.

  • The absence of articles investigating leader-steering effects is particularly acute in the highest-ranked U.S. IR journals (International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, American Political Science Review, World Politics, American Journal of Political Science).2

  • Foreign Policy Analysis and Political Psychology account for a high proportion of the total number of leader-steering articles. Journals focusing on international security (International Security and Security Studies) also carried some leader-steering articles.

  • There is a near-complete absence of articles on leaders in European IR journals (The European Journal of International Relations, Millennium—Journal of International Studies, and Review of International Studies).3

  • Articles on leaders employ a methodologically diverse toolkit, often using multiple, mixed, and innovative methods. The articles included quantitative analyses of large-N studies based on datasets, experiments, and surveys, formal modeling, qualitative historical case studies and process tracing, content analysis of speech, or a combination of these approaches.

  • Personality trait and operational code analysis approaches are the dominant leader-steering approaches, constituting one of the very few research programs in political science that views leaders as causal variables. However, these two major research programs have not been adopted by scholars outside of the foreign policy analysis subfield.

In this study we briefly summarize the most recent articles published in contemporary IR journals. The literature is organized into four subgroups: leader durability, leaders and regime type, leaders and public opinion, leadership style and psychology. The first three subgroups mostly find that leaders mirror external forces. The final subgroup, leadership style and psychology, focuses on how the individual characteristics and cognitive processes of leaders interact with their environment so as to steer political outcomes.

Leader Durability (Survival, Tenure, Turnover, and Change)

The literature on leader survival focuses on how a leader’s desire to stay in power (and ensure her future welfare more generally) affects interstate behavior. These studies conceptualize leaders as survival-maximizing actors (this is an assumed constant), with regime type often functioning as the explanatory variable. For example, Goemans (2000) expands the classic democracy/non-democracy binary into three regime types (democracies, dictatorships, and mixed regimes), arguing that leaders of mixed regimes have the highest domestic-survival incentives to prolong costly wars. Moderately costly war settlements leave these leaders facing disproportionately severe domestic punishment, and so domestic-survival imperatives lead to suboptimal international behavior. Other studies further expand the range of regime influences, particularly to differentiate between civilian and military leaders and the different types of conflicts they may cause (Colaresi, 2004; Debs & Goemans, 2010; Kennedy, 2009).

These studies place causal weight on the regime type acting upon the leader, rather than on the leader as an independent figure. For example, while Chiozza and Goemans note that both “comparative politics and IR has shown a marked shift towards leaders as a theoretical unit of analysis,” they later argue that “political institutions fundamentally mediate the assumption that war is ex post inefficient for leaders,” removing agency and causative power from leaders (2004, p. 604). Similarly, Stanley’s study of leadership survival and war termination looks at shifting domestic coalitions within a regime as the primary force explaining leader behavior (2009). While DiGiuseppe and Shea (2015) differ from most survival literature by concentrating on how access to sovereign credit rather than involvement in conflict affects leader survival, their main independent variable is still regime type, and leaders are largely interchangeable rational actors making survival calculations. Bueno de Mesquita, Smith, Siverson, and Morrow’s Logic of Political Survival (2003) has influenced much of this work (McGillivray & Smith, 2005; Smith, 2009).

The literature on leader change and turnover also focuses on institutional rather than individual explanation, and so posits mirroring (causal mechanism) over steering (causal variable) effects. For example, studies on the impact of leadership change on levels of interstate trade or on voting behavior in the UN General Assembly posit regime type or the preferences of societal groups as the forces behind changes in leader behavior (Mattes, Leeds, & Carroll, 2015; McGillivray & Smith, 2004; Smith, 2016).

Some literature on leader tenure and durability does allow for causally significant variation in the characteristics of the leader. Taking time-in-office as an independent variable, Gelpi and Grieco (2001) studied the effect of leader experience on crisis initiation for all regime types from 1918–1992. They argue that new leaders are vulnerable to aggressive militarized challenges from other states. Spaniel and Smith (2015) discovered that new leaders are more likely both to be targets and initiators of economic sanctions. Clarke, Colder, and Poast’s study of OECD countries demonstrates that new leaders have a diminished ability to manipulate macroeconomic tools to their advantage (2013).

Wolford, focusing on leadership durability, claims that “leaders, not states, should be considered the fundamental unit of analysis” (Wolford, 2007, p. 772). Building upon previous work on leader tenure, reputation and political capital (Chiozza & Choi, 2003), he “relaxes” the assumption “that successive leaders of the same state do not vary in their resolve, or their willingness to use military force, in international crises” (Wolford, 2007, p. 772). He treats “national leaders explicitly as the primary actors” and assesses “individual difference in resolve” as well as the leader’s time-in-office and reputation (Wolford, 2007, pp. 773, 783). Croco also emphasizes “the need to appreciate more fully the role individual leaders play in bringing their states to war” (2011, p. 147). She develops the concept of “leader culpability” as an independent variable that explains war termination and bargaining. Similarly, Gelpi and Grieco (2015) develop the concept of “leader competency” in foreign policy, which they empirically test based on the ability of U.S. presidents to pass domestic legislation. These studies develop ways to conceptualize leader agency (steering), for example, resolve, culpability, competency, alongside external constraints to their decision making (mirroring).

Leaders and Regime Type

Studies on leaders and regime types have focused on how domestic institutions constrain or embolden leaders and affect the probabilities of interstate aggression (Peceny & Beer, 2003; Vreeland, 2008). Keller argues that understanding the relationship between leaders and regime type requires “a new theoretical synthesis” showing how the “missing link between democratic constraints and pacific monadic behavior is leaders’ perceptions of, and responses to, these constraints” (Keller, 2005a, p. 205).

Colgan explores the relationship between revolutionary regimes and international conflict by “differentiating, both theoretically and empirically, the concept of revolutionary leaders from that of revolutions as events” (2013, p. 656). He identifies high risk tolerance and strong need for power as characteristics of leaders who emerge through revolutionary politics, and shows how these factors interact with the weak domestic constraints of a post-revolutionary regime to make revolutionary states more likely to instigate international conflict (Colgan, 2013, p. 657; Colgan & Weeks, 2015).

Other studies seek to chart the leader/regime type interaction by focusing on the backgrounds of leaders: their military experience, age, or revolutionary past. Horowitz and Stam (2014) claim leader behavior can be explained, in part, by the presence or absence of military experience. They studied the biographies of 2,500 heads of state from 1875–2004 to explain how a leader evaluates the utility of military force, concluding that the most likely conflict initiators are leaders with prior military service but no combat experience, as well as former rebel militants. The same research program finds that leaders’ age interacts with regime type to affect foreign policy outcomes, with older leaders more likely to initiate and escalate conflict (Horowitz, McDermott, & Stam, 2005). However, in the United States, the effect of a leader’s age is less significant than a leader’s time-in-office and the influence of the democratic electoral cycle (Potter, 2007). The “Biden hypothesis” assumes foreign challengers will test a young leader,4 however, in the case of U.S. presidents 1875–2001, older leaders, especially Republicans, are more likely to face foreign challenges early in their term (Bak & Palmer, 2010).

Non-State Leaders

There has been an increased focus on terrorist leaders since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Price suggests that

There is no single “type” of terrorist leader. In the past forty years, terrorist group leaders have included twelve-year-old boys and octogenarians, psychopaths and recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, high school dropouts and college professors. Some of the individuals assumed leadership based on their military experience or organizational skills; others claimed to possess mystical powers or were chosen to lead by a religious deity.

(2012, p. 15)

Similar to Jordan (2009), Price argues that “institutional constraints that limit the influence of leaders in economic firms and legitimate political organizations do not affect terrorist leaders” and that “these differences suggest that terrorist leaders have more influence on organizational performance than leaders in other types of organizations” (2012, pp.15, 16). Crenshaw, though, cautions against placing excessive emphasis on the importance of individual terrorist leaders, stating that “it is generally accepted that psychological explanations of terrorism must take multiple levels of analysis into account, linking the individual to the group and to society” (2000, p. 405).

International Organizations

State or supranational representatives who take leadership roles at multilateral conferences and organizations can wield significant independent influence through agenda management, brokerage, selective delegation, and selective representation of interests (Schroeder, 2014; Tallberg, 2010).

International organizations can offer an environment amenable to leader steering, and scholars have been willing, on occasion, to use psychological approaches to study this. Kille and Scully applied at-a-distance trait analysis of leaders’ personal characteristics to “provide analytical leverage for examining executive heads of intergovernmental organisations (IGOs)” (2003, p. 175). They tested the personal characteristics of six UN Secretaries-General and four European Union Commission presidents to demonstrate that “executive heads with higher expansionist leadership style scores displayed a greater willingness to try to enhance the status of their organisations” (Kille & Scully, 2003, p. 175). Below (2008) applied poliheuristic decision-making theory, more commonly used to explain foreign policy crises, to “low politics issue areas” such as international environmental policy. Hafner-Burton, LeVeck, Victor, and Fowler study decision-maker preferences for large multilateral agreements or smaller “clubs” and employ innovative experiments “drawn from behavioral economics and cognitive psychology” (2014, p. 845).

Leaders and Public Opinion

Gaps Between Leaders and Public Opinion

Several studies try to explain the relationship between the foreign policy opinions of elites and the publics they serve. Public opinion on foreign policy is sometimes a constraint upon a leader and on other occasions offers an opportunity. An example of constraint is the reluctance of the Israeli public to make territorial concessions to Syria in the 1990s over the Golan Heights despite the willingness of Israeli prime ministers to do so (Goddard, Pressman, & Hassner, 2007/2008). Similarly, Chong (2007) discusses how interwar international theorists called for leaders to educate the public on foreign policy to prevent such elite/mass divergences in opinion. He writes that liberal theorist Norman Angell felt that “War and peace between nation-states hinges upon how the constituents of democratic politics—the John Smiths on the street—wish to engage questions of foreign affairs in an intelligent manner” (Chong, 2007, pp. 625, 630, 633).

Page and Barabas use survey data to show that the “pattern of gaps is considerably more complicated than a simple difference in degree of commitment to internationalism” (2000, p. 339). They find that citizens and leaders can share broad foreign policy commitments, but differ regarding specific policies. The authors attribute this gap to lower levels of attention and access to information among members of the public. This is consistent with Herron and Jenkins-Smith’s findings on information processing that challenge the assumption that members of the public are more emotionally volatile, lacking coherence in beliefs, and liable to overreact to foreign policy issues than elites, and instead find similar relationships between belief systems and foreign policy opinions for both elites and the public (2002, p. 472). Herrmann, Tetlock, and Diascro (2001) support this finding by comparing the ideational landscapes of elites and members of the public in the United States regarding commerce, national security, and social justice.

Diversionary Use of Force, Rally Around the Flag, and Leader Approval

Jacobs and Page find the influence of public opinion on foreign policy to be less than the influence of organized groups such as business or labor, “except under particular conditions” that may include “highly salient issues of war and peace” (2005, pp. 107, 118). The salience of war among the public makes it difficult for leaders to pursue a foreign policy divergent from the constraints placed upon them by public opinion regarding conflict initiation, but it also provides an opportunity to use foreign policy to distract domestic audiences from internal problems and win political support.

The diversionary use of force and “rally around the flag” theory of foreign policy suggests leaders pursue foreign adventures to gain domestic support, based on the idea “that leaders were aware that constituencies become more cohesive during times of conflict with outgroups” (DeRouen, 2000, pp. 317, 325; also see Levy, 1989; Park, 2010; Russett, 1990). DeRouen finds that the use of force can yield a rally in U.S. presidential approval, especially in times of high unemployment, but this tendency operates in tandem with constraints such as public aversion to force during a protracted conflict. He uses the poliheuristic model (Mintz, 1997) to show that domestic factors can act as both a constraint and incentive to use force. He explains that “[s]imply identifying conditions in which the president is likely to use more force does not provide sufficient explanatory power. We must also identify those factors and conditions that prevent diversionary behavior” (DeRouen, 2000, p. 325).

Lai and Reiter provide “the most comprehensive and extensive analysis to date” of the “rally around the flag” effect in Britain, finding that certain events perceived to involve a direct and intense threat to the national interest generate rally effects. Crises that stopped short of war, however, generated no rally effect (2005, p. 255). Howell and Rogowski (2013) similarly find complex rally effects during both world wars and the post-9/11-era conflicts, but not the Korean and Vietnam interventions. Davies and Johns (2013) find that the type of crisis is influential and that a limited use of force is the best strategy for a leader to mitigate negative effects on domestic popularity. Wood (2009) found that leadership aggression that stops short of war—“sabre rattling”—can often lead to improved public perceptions of the economy. Whang (2011) finds that U.S. presidents use economic sanctions as shows of force to boost their approval ratings: They are a low-cost way to signal strong leadership to the public. These studies demonstrate that leaders can successfully manipulate crises to win public support, but risk condemnation if they handle them poorly.

Studies of the 2003 invasion of Iraq find that George W. Bush experienced a “honeymoon” rally effect shortly after the invasion, but then the rate of U.S. casualties negatively affected his approval ratings (Eichenberg, Stoll, & Lebo, 2006). Voeten and Brewer (2006) distinguish between the public’s approval for the decision to go to war and for the subsequent handling of the war, finding that the former is the most significant factor affecting presidential approval. Baum and Groeling (2010) report similar findings. Knecht and Weatherford (2006) find that when public attention to foreign policy is high, leaders are most likely to take public preferences into account.

Shaping Public Opinion

Dewan and Myatt see leaders as having the ability to steer public opinion on international affairs (2008, p. 351). They find a leader’s sense of direction and their ability to communicate clearly to be the keys to successful public influence, citing Winston Churchill as a leader who possessed these rare qualities. They explain that clarity of message is the more important factor, citing former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as an example of a leader with a good sense of direction but a lack of message clarity, and Tony Blair as a leader who possessed the more effective reverse combination of skills (Dewan & Myatt, 2008, p. 356). Krebs (2015) similarly sees President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a leader whose oratorical talents allowed him to construct a narrative to gain public support for war.

Individual leaders may have significant effects on the opinion climate long after their tenure, even if they are unsuccessful in the short term. This is exemplified by “Woodrow Wilson’s campaign to persuade the American public, U.S. Senate and world public opinion to embrace his concept for making the world safe for democracy” (Snyder, 2015, p. 171). Snyder explains that Wilson “captured imaginations worldwide like no grand strategist before or since, and his vision has underpinned many of the strategic assumptions of the world’s dominant superpower down to our own day” (2015, p. 172).

If leaders can “go public”—shaping opinion during times of war initiation and escalation—they can also choose to “go private” (Baum, 2004). Kreps (2010) shows that public opinion had little impact upon NATO-led operations in Afghanistan since 2001, and that alliances with external states help alleviate pressure from domestic publics. Elite consensus can be more important than public opinion. Similarly, Saunders (2015) argues that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s main political task was managing elites rather than public opinion while escalating U.S. intervention in Vietnam.

Leadership Style and Psychology

Our final subgroup encompasses studies that directly engage the individual characteristics of leaders and focus on steering, rather than mirroring effects. These authors treat leaders not solely as causal mechanisms, aggregating and transmitting extra-individual factors into decisions, but as causal variables. The distinctive characteristics of leaders, these authors argue, are a crucial part of determinate causal explanation. Much of this work is informed by psychology, and we organize it into the following sections:

  • perceptions and misperceptions;

  • personality traits and leadership style;

  • propensity to challenge or respect external constraints;

  • risk taking, time horizons, and irrationality;

  • belief systems and heuristics;

  • affective reasoning and neuroscience.

Perceptions and Misperceptions

Leaders’ perceptions shape their conceptualization of a situation, the norms they choose to invoke (Herrmann & Shannon, 2001), and the signals they choose to send and interpret as important (Haas, 2007). For example, Yarhi-Milo (2013) forwards a “selective attention thesis,” explaining that “individual perceptual biases and organizational interests and practices influence which types of indicators observers regard as credible signals of the adversary’s intentions” (2013, p. 9). She notes that “in particular, decision-makers often base their interpretations on their own theories, expectations, and needs, sometimes ignoring costly signals, and paying more attention to information that, though costly, is more vivid (i.e. personally and emotionally involving)” (Yarhi-Milo, 2013, p. 9). However, although taking some steps toward a causal variable model of leadership, her study does not focus on the individual but generalizes from organizational affiliations to individual perceptions, noting that intelligence agencies focus more on military inventories than civilian agencies. Saunders (2009) studies the role of perception in military intervention, charting “a middle course between the two extremes of studying leaders as a series of ‘great men,’ on the one hand, and excluding them by assuming that they respond to domestic or international conditions in similar ways, on the other.” Her “critical variable” is the leader’s hypothesis about where threats originate (Saunders, 2009, p. 120). She claims that “internally focused” leaders see threats coming from the internal organization of a state and so any military intervention launched by the leader will aim to transforming the regime type of the state. Conversely, “externally focused” leaders will see threats originating from specific policies or leaders and choose non-transformative military interventions. Saunders argues that leaders develop these beliefs based upon their experiences prior to their time-in-office.

Duelfer and Dyson (2011) examine how misperceptions caused the United States and Iraq to misread each other’s intentions, both in the run up to the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Duelfer and Dyson explain that Saddam Hussein believed that the United States was supportive of his role as a bulwark again Iran and Islamic fundamentalism, while the U.S. leadership misperceived his actions and signals as increasingly hostile to them (2011, p. 74). They explain that perceptions influence what decision makers notice (and do not), providing ready-made maps of situations and action scripts about the appropriate response (2011, pp. 77–78). Humans, they write, are “physiologically incapable of being perfectly unbiased and solely inductive information processors” and when decision makers are faced with a mass of varied external factors, they must “recognize and categorize information based on existing beliefs and hypotheses concerning the nature of the world and the characteristics of the actors within it” (2011, p. 77).

Leadership Style and Personality Traits

Many studies positing leader-steering effects use content analysis techniques, focused on the verbal behavior of leaders, to study personality traits and belief systems (Schafer, 2000). Margaret Hermann (1980a, 1980b, 1983, 1984), David Winter (1987; Winter & Stewart, 1977), Philip Tetlock (1981, 1983), and Walter Weintraub (1986) assert that “what leaders say and how they say it can indicate certain dimensions of their personalities” (Garrison, Kaarbo, Foyle, Schafer, & Stern, 2003, p. 174). Because researchers “rarely have direct access to a leader in a way that would allow for traditional psychological analysis,” scholars working in foreign policy analysis have developed ways to analyze leaders’ speech patterns “at-a-distance” (Hermann, 1983; Schafer, 2000, p. 512; Walker, 1977, 1983; Young, 1996; Young & Schafer, 1998).

Constraint Respecters/Challengers: Complexity, Need for Power, and Belief in Ability to Control Events

These personality measurement techniques allow scholars to not just look at the constraints placed on leaders, such as degree of electoral support (Potter, 2013), but also the extent to which leaders respect or challenge constraints (Keller, 2005b). While constraint respecters internalize their environment, challengers see it as a series of obstacles to be surmounted. This rather neatly supplements the mirroring/steering framework, suggesting that the propensity to mirror or steer is itself an individual characteristic of leaders.

Keller studied 154 foreign policy crises to show that in democracies, constraint respecters, such as Bill Clinton or John F. Kennedy, respond more peacefully to crises compared to constraint challengers such as Ronald Reagan or Keller (2005b, p. 207). Similarly, the personalities of British Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Tony Blair partly account for the different outcomes regarding involvement in the Vietnam War and Iraq War; war was unpopular in the United Kingdom in both cases: Wilson respected this domestic constraint while Blair challenged it (Dyson, 2007).

Leaders with a higher need for power, higher belief in their ability to control events, and lower conceptual complexity tend to be constraint challengers. Dille and Young explain conceptual complexity as the following:

the ability to recognize and hold multiple, even contradictory, dimensions of an idea or situation simultaneously. People with low cognitive complexity tend to view situations in dichotomous, universal and generally rigid terms. Those exhibiting high complexity tend to see varying reasons for a particular position, have a higher tolerance for ambiguity, and are flexible in reacting to objects or ideas.

(2000, p. 588)

They studied the spontaneous utterances of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to assess levels of cognitive complexity, finding that Carter had higher complexity than Clinton, and Carter’s complexity remained more consistent than Clinton who became significantly lower on the trait over time (2000, p. 592). Dyson and Preston (2006) find that leaders with low complexity tend to use simple analogies drawn from their own lifetime whereas high complexity leaders drew more sophisticated comparisons from a wider range of sources. Dyson (2006, 2009a) finds that British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s leadership style was based on a high belief in his ability to control events, high need for power, and low conceptual complexity, and this combination of traits played a crucial role in determining British participation in the invasion of Iraq. Shannon and Keller (2007) also found that leaders with a high need for power and high belief in their ability to control events are much more likely to engage in foreign policy behavior that violates normative constraints. This shows that leaders’ “cognitive processes are not constraints but variables” (Foster & Keller, 2014, p. 205). Foster and Keller’s study of U.S. leaders from 1953–2000 demonstrates how low complexity thinkers, especially those with high measures of distrust, are more likely to embrace diversionary strategies (2014).

Dyson (2009a, 2014) uses both quantitative content analysis and qualitative interviews to examine how key aspects of Donald Rumsfeld’s worldview and his bureaucratic style influenced foreign policy under George W. Bush. He finds that Rumsfeld’s high complexity and low perception of his ability to control macropolitical events helps to explain some otherwise puzzling aspects of his management of the Iraq war.

Risk Taking, Time Horizons, and Irrational Decision Making

Work on risk taking looks at the cognitive processes that cause actors to make suboptimal decisions (Geva, Mayhar, & Skorick, 2000, pp. 447–448). For example, prospect theory predicts that if an individual has experienced a recent loss [broadly conceptualized as a shift into negative utility], she is more likely to make excessively risky and suboptimal choices. Haas (2001) applies this insight to explain the choices of leaders during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Astorino-Courtois (2000) finds that during times of elevated threat, leaders make better decisions as compared to less threatening situations when they may rely on flawed heuristics.

Krebs and Rapport (2012) discuss the importance of “time horizons” to a leader’s decision making. Time horizons are “a metaphor for how heavily actors value the future relative to the present” (Krebs & Rapport, 2012, p. 530). They use “Construal Level Theory” to explain how spatial, social, and temporal factors change decisions based on whether the leader assesses them to be near or distant events. The longer the time horizon, the more optimistic the decision maker is about the outcome. Leaders prefer high-probability, low payoff gambles in the short term, and low-probability, high payoff gambles in the long term. This explains why leaders find cooperation harder, delay preventative wars, and try to avoid coercive action. Rapport (2012) applies time horizons to explain why leaders failed to plan for postwar reconstruction and stability operations before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He suggests that the lack of planning cannot be explained by lack of information, the opportunity costs involved, or the institutional biases of the military and finds that Construal Level Theory best explains the defective decision making involved.

Johnson and Tierney (2011) look at the sequential nature of decision making, finding that leaders, once they have decided to go to war, experience a cognitive shift from “deliberative” to “implemental” mindsets. They explain that mindsets are a “master level that suppresses or amplifies a range of associated psychological biases.” Implemental mindsets trigger overconfidence (Johnson & Tierney, 2011, p. 8). This has significant policy implications: “because psychological biases are difficult for individuals to resist, or even acknowledge, leaders must build policymaking routines or institutional structures that guard against the negative effects of implemental mind-sets” (Johnson & Tierney, 2011, p. 9).

The poliheuristic theory of foreign policy decision making is also based around a two-stage sequential application of different modes of reasoning, but here the first stage is less deliberative than the second. Poliheuristic decision theory addresses the multiple shortcuts used by leaders when making foreign policy, and posits an interaction between the external environment and internal cognitive processes (Redd, 2002, p. 336; Mintz & Geva, 1997). Mintz (2004) explains that the first stage of the decision process mobilizes leader biases and preferences to quickly eliminate unacceptable options. Once the choice set has been reduced, the decision maker then engages more analytic processes. It notes that humans are information managers engaged in a “non-exhaustive search” of information and choice options based on the political context of risks and political ramifications of their decisions that rely on the selective use of different heuristics (Redd, 2002, p. 337). One heuristic is “dimension-based processing” where a leader uses a particular attribute, for example, opinion poll ratings, as the thematic criteria to understand information rather than considering all the aspects of alternative choices. It challenges the “compensatory principle,” which suggests that decision makers make trade-offs among attributes, for example, a low political cost will be worth a high economic benefit. Instead, poliheuristic theory argues that in practice foreign policy decision makers are reluctant to trade “queens” for “pawns” across dimensions due to information-processing limitations and the prioritization of certain spheres (usually domestic political imperatives).

DeRouen and Sprecher (2004) test poliheuristic theory against crises decision making from 1918–1994. They find that domestic factors are critical during the first stage of crises, and act as a constraint on leaders’ use of force (DeRouen & Sprecher, 2004, p. 66). Redd (2002) used poliheuristic theory and process-tracing techniques in an experimental setting to study the influence of advisors. He notes that “[b]ecause advisers participate extensively in presidential decision making, any explanation of processes and outcomes should account for their presence” (Redd, 2002, p. 342). His study finds that advisors play an important role influencing which attributes of the decision that leaders will prioritize. Mintz and Wayne (2016) study the dangers of advisors suffering from “Polythink” whereby, contra “Groupthink,” they offer a plurality of options that can lead to intragroup conflict, disjointed decision making, and decision paralysis, and suggest ways to generate productive rather than destructive Polythink dynamics.

Belief Systems: Operational Codes

Work on the operational code in IR originated with Nathan Leites (1951) and has been developed by Alexander George (1969), Ole Holsti (1970), and Stephen Walker (1977, 1983). In its modern incarnation, operational code scholarship utilizes “quantitative indicators derived from computer-driven content analysis procedures … to make statistical comparisons of leaders and run regression models with our dependent variables to test the hypothesis that individuals’ belief systems have a causal effect on behavior” (Schafer, 2000, pp. 173–174). Content analysis focuses upon transitive verbs in a leader’s speech indicating perceptions of the nature of the political universe (from hostile to friendly), the balance of power (from self’s control to other’s control), and the utility of various means and tactics (to threaten, oppose, appeal, promise, or reward others). Operational code analysis is primarily framed around two sets of beliefs: (a) philosophical beliefs pertaining to the way the leader views the political universe, and (b) instrumental beliefs about how the leader views the best ways to act in the international arena (Schafer, 2000, p. 519).

Operational codes can be derived from public statements such as press conferences; interviews or formal speeches; or private sources such as diaries, interpersonal discussions, and meetings with advisors. Walker and Schafer (2000) compared the public operational codes of President Lyndon B. Johnson to the private operational codes of his advisors, and Marfleet (2000) analyzed the public and private comments made by President John F. Kennedy. Public statements tend to accurately reflect official state decisions but also incorporate “impression management” and may less closely reflect personal beliefs. Researchers have also debated the utility of analyzing prepared versus spontaneous material by leaders. Schafer and Crichlow (2000) look at how President Bill Clinton’s operational code changed over time finding that spontaneous remarks more closely reflect his changing beliefs. Dille (2000) compares the spontaneous and prepared remarks of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. H. Bush and find that if the leader is involved in the preparation of the speeches, then they can be as valid an indicator of a leader’s psychological variables as spontaneous remarks.

Schafer and Walker (2006) studied the operational codes of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton to better understand the dyadic democratic peace: Why do leaders of democracies view other democracies as more friendly than non-democracies? Walker and Schafer (2007) note the identification of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson with realism and idealism respectively, and analyze these leaders’ operational codes to show the psycho-cultural origins of U.S. diplomacy. Schafer, Robison, and Aldrich (2006) analyze the operational codes of rebel leaders James Connolly and Patrick Pearse of the Irish 1916 Easter Rising to support the “frustration-aggression hypothesis”: Increased frustration can lead to a change from peaceful to violent tactics. O’Reilly (2012) analyzes the operational codes of leaders in South Africa and India to understand how their perceptions of the strategic context influences the decision to go nuclear.

Feng (2005) studies the operational code of Mao Zedong to identify the manner in which his belief system both reflected and shaped Chinese strategic culture. Feng finds that Mao’s beliefs changed over time and that his beliefs were a product of both his personality (internal) and of the international context (external). Malici and Malici (2005) also study the propensity of leaders to change their beliefs based on changing international environments, finding that Fidel Castro learned from the end of the Cold War, while Kim Il Sung did not. Renshon (2008) examined the operational code of President George W. Bush in four separate phases of his political career, challenging some elements of the cognitive consistency model. Renshon found that while some beliefs do remain stable over time, other beliefs can change, and that “changes in what seem to be key or core beliefs do not seem to affect other, derivative beliefs at all” (2005, p. 841). He ascribes learning to a change in the individual’s role combined with the experience of traumatic events. He further examines cognitive consistency (Renshon, 2008) finding that significant changes in leader’s beliefs are possible through an incremental process. Ziv (2013) builds on Nye’s conceptual framework separating “complex” and “simple” learning (1987) to understand when policy shifts represent a “genuine reassessment of his or her beliefs as opposed to tactical maneuvering” (2013, p. 203). He studies Israeli prime ministers to find that cognitively open and complex leaders are more liable to change beliefs than closed and simple leaders (Ziv, 2013, p. 206).

Emotions and Neuroscience

Recently, work in psychology on the limits of rationality and the importance of emotions in decision making has been applied to leadership and foreign policy (D’Amasio, 1994; Marcus, Neuman, & MacKuen, 2000). Mercer (2010) explains the “revolutionary research in the brain sciences,” which “has overturned conventional views on the relationship between emotion, rationality and belief” (2010, p. 1). He explains that “[e]motion is not a mysterious, irrational, idiosyncratic force” and that “[w]hen emotions constitutes and strengthens beliefs it has predictable effects” (Mercer, 2010, p. 25). He then applies this insight to explain leaders’ strategic choices during the Korean War, showing that leaders interpret signals based on their emotional beliefs (Mercer, 2013).

Similarly, foreign policy scholars have applied studies linking insights from neuroscience to political science to look “under the hood” of human psychology (Jost, Nam, Amodio, & Van Bavel, 2014; McDermott, 2014; McDermott, Lopez, & Hatemi, 2016, p. 680). Hall and Yarhi-Milo (2012) explain that which signals from the international environment leaders perceive to be important depends on leaders’ affective neurological processes. They study British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and the 1961 Vienna Summit between Kennedy and Khrushchev to understand the importance of emotions in leaders’ assessments of one another’s sincerity. McDermott (2014) studies the biological bases for difference between leaders’ ability to regulate and marshal their emotions that can “decisively influence the outcome of significant public policies, including decisions on conflict and war” (2014, p. 10).

McDermott and Hatemi explain how “only recently has the neurobiological toolkit been applied to questions of interest in international relations (IR)” explaining that it offers “a novel set of hypotheses for investigation” regarding “critical factors contributing to variance in individual choices” (2014, p. 93). They utilize techniques drawn from behavioral genetics to understand the inherited and learned processes of leadership, propensity for aggression and violence, leader-follower dynamics, and the evolutionary function of political leadership (McDermott et al., 2016; McDermott & Hatemi, 2014, p. 101). They note that key aspects of leadership such as “social intelligence, motivational ability, memory, planning, creativity, stress reactions, emotion regulation, cognition, theory of mind, and communication, among many other characteristics, all emerge from genetic, neurobiological, and associated hormonal mechanisms” (McDermott et al., 2016, p. 679).


This review began by charting the relative absence of leaders from the research literature on political science, and remarked upon how starkly different this is from the public discourse about politics. We offered a modest set of proposals for bridging this gap, suggesting that a framework of mirroring and steering effects offers a reasonable basis for the incorporation of political leaders into political science explanation as both causal mechanisms and causal variables (Walker & Post, 2005).

The balance of the article has undertaken a survey of the contemporary research on political leaders, much of which implicitly adopts the leaders-as-mirrors, causal mechanism perspective. Of the four subgroups of literature studying leaders—leaders and durability, leaders and regime type, leaders and public opinion, leaders and psychology—only the last consistently focuses upon the steering effect of leaders in IR.

As with most decisions in the craft of political science research, the choice of whether to design a study that incorporates leaders should be approached from a practical standpoint cognizant of the trade-offs involved, rather than as an ideological imperative to include or exclude these political actors. Studies incorporating mirroring effects benefit from the explication of fully specified causal chains, accounting for the presence of an authoritative actor aggregating material and ideational inputs and transferring them into action. However, mirroring effects are sometimes little more than epiphenomena; the danger is adding to the complexity of a framework for little gain in causal leverage.

Incorporating leader-steering effects has a potentially bigger payoff in terms of increasing the determinacy of causal explanation, but carries significant costs too. Steering effects are often not generalizable beyond a small class of cases, and sometimes beyond even a single case. If the leader is truly idiosyncratic, then by definition explanations based upon the leader are not amenable to formulation in general terms.

Investigation of steering effects is therefore to be undertaken with caution, and the investigator must be sure to account for non-leader explanations before ascribing causal importance to leaders. The cost in terms of generalizability in incorporating leader-steering effects is so great that we should not start there. In the universe of events that compose international affairs, perhaps just a small minority are decisively influenced by leader-steering effects. However, these events—puzzles from the standpoint of more general theories of IR where a leader behaved unexpectedly or even irrationally—are often extremely high-impact happenings, matters of war and peace. As a discipline, we must be able to recognize and account for them.


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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              (1.) The 2011 survey listed 20 journals, whereas the 2014 survey only listed the top 10 (Maliniak et al., 2014, p. 6). The rankings were fairly similar so it did not affect the journal selection significantly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              (5.) From 2000 to summer 2016, with the exceptions of International Studies Quarterly, which was from 2000 to winter 2015; and Foreign Policy Analysis, which was from 2005 (when it started publishing) to summer 2016.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              (2.) Articles on leaders in the top U.S. journals were mostly leader mirroring, causal mechanism arguments. They relied, for the most part, on actor-general assumptions that used large N analyses based on datasets of interstate crises, conflicts and regime types.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              (3.) One may speculate that because the articles on leaders generally adopt a positivist epistemology—which assumes there is an independent reality accessible to an impartial and neutral researcher—they are less likely to be submitted to or published in epistemologically diverse journals such as the European Journal of IR, which is typically focused on constructivist and historical sociological approaches, or Millennium—Journal of International Studies, which is open to non-positivist approaches and focuses on studies of agency beyond traditional loci of authority. The Review of International Studies published the most articles of the European journals, but the articles viewed leaders as mirroring external ideological forces.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              (4.) Named after former Vice President Joe Biden who speculated that President Barack Obama would face challenges similar to President John F. Kennedy who was also relatively young when he assumed office.