John E. Owens

The University of Westminster
The Centre for the Study of Democracy

32-38 Wells Street
United Kingdom
W1T 3UW |  Visit Personal Website

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My current research interests include the early 19th century speakership of the US House of Representatives.

“Assessing the Effects of Personal Characteristics and Context on U.S. House Speakers’ Leadership Styles, 1789-2006.” Sage Open, April-June 2016: 1-14 (with Scott Schraufnagel and Quan Li)
Abstract: Research on congressional leadership has been dominated in recent decades by contextual interpretations that see leaders’ behavior as best explained by the environment in which they seek to exercise leadership—particularly, the preference homogeneity and size of their party caucus. The role of agency is thus discounted, and leaders’ personal characteristics and leadership styles are underplayed. Focusing specifically on the speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives from the first to the 110th Congress, we construct measures of each speaker’s commitment to comity and leadership assertiveness. We find the scores reliable and then test the extent to which a speaker’s style is the product of both political context and personal characteristics. Regression estimates on speakers’ personal assertiveness scores provide robust support for a context-plus personal characteristics explanation, whereas estimates of their comity scores show that speakers’ personal backgrounds trump context.
Owens, John E. and Ricardo Pelizzo. "Rethinking Crises and the Accretion of Executive Power: The “War on Terror” and Conditionality Evidence From Seven Political Systems." Asian Politics & Policy. 2013.
Abstract: External shocks to democratic systems are likely to threaten the stability of relations between the executive and the representative assembly. This article investigates the impact of the so-called “war on terror” on executive-assembly relations in comparative perspective. We analyze data from seven countries, which varied in terms of form of government, level of democracy, culture, social structure, and geographic location, to evaluate its effects. We find that whereas in some systems the “war on terror” altered the balance of power between the executive and the assembly, in other cases the extant balance of power was preserved. We postulate various conditions under which the constitutionally sanctioned balance of power is most likely to be preserved in times of crisis.
"The Onward March of (Asymmetric) Partisan Polarisation in the Contemporary Congress." Issues in American Politics. John W. Dumbrell, ed. New York and London: Routledge. 2013.
"Rivals Only Sometimes. Presidentialism, Unilateralism and Congressional Acquiescence in Obama’s “Ongoing Struggle” Against Terrorism." Rivals for Power: Presidential-Congressional Relations. James A. Thurber, ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013.
Abstract: Twelve years on from 9/11 and notwithstanding the extra-legal killing of the alleged perpetrator of the 9/11 atrocities in May 2011, the threat from terrorism, primarily but not exclusively from jihadists, continues. As the chapter shows in considering policies on detainees, drones, targeted assassinations, rendition and torture, the accretion of executive power in relation to the so-called ‘war on terror’ under the Bush Administration has been maintained under the Obama Administration and, in certain cases, accelerated, often by stealth, despite some softening of tone and policy changes. The Congress, moreover, has largely gone along with the administration's presidentialist approach, and sometimes reinforced it. Presidential power is not only the power to persuade, it is also about what a president can get away with—and whether the Congress and the courts will stop him or her. Indeed, the Obama Administration, like its predecessor, has gone to great lengths both to protect presidential and executive privileges and to resist accountability by the Congress and the courts. Twelve years after 9/11, we can see the continuation of a presidential shift of power to the executive instigated by George W. Bush.
Owens, John E. 2012. "The Resilience of Democratic Institutions in Britain, Australia and the United States Under Conditions of Total War." Australian Journal of International Affairs 66 (3):330-348.
Abstract: To what extent are democratic institutions resilient when nation states mobilise for war? Normative and empirical political theorists have long argued that wars strengthen the executive and threaten constitutional politics. In modern democracies, national assemblies are supposed to hold the executive to account by demanding explanations for events and policies; and by scrutinising, reviewing and, if necessary, revising legislative proposals intended to be binding on the host society or policies that have been implemented already. This article examines the extent to which the British and Australian parliaments and the United States Congress held their wartime executives to account during World War II. The research finds that under conditions approaching those of total war, these democratic institutions not only continued to exist, but also proved to be resilient in representing public concerns and holding their executives to account, however imperfectly and notwithstanding delegating huge powers. In consequence, executives—more so British and Australian ministers than President Roosevelt—were required to be placatory as institutional and political tensions within national assemblies and between assemblies and executives continued, and assemblies often asserted themselves. In short, even under the most onerous wartime conditions, democratic politics mattered and democratic institutions were resilient.
Owens, John E. 2010. “Bush’s Congressional Legacy and Congress’s Bush Legacy”. In Right Man? Assessing George W. Bush's Legacy. Iwan Morgan and John Philip Davies, eds. Palgrave: New York.
Owens, John E. 2011. "A ‘Post-Partisan’ President in a Partisan Context.” In Obama in Office. The First Two Years, ed. James A. Thurber. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Books.
Abstract: Although Obama wanted to be a post-partisan president, he ran smack into a partisan Congress. The strategic context that Obama inherited was not as favourable as it first seemed, and throughout his first two years in office continued to influence his relationship with Congress, as did Obama's personal style, perceptions, and approaches. The analysis also identifies Obama's legislative priorities, achievements, and legislative strategies, and assesses the effectiveness of Obama's identification and exploitation of legislative opportunities. Owens argues that the list of legislative accomplishments of the Obama administration and the 111th Congress is significant. Owens concludes that Obama?s legislative successes, particularly the stimulus and the health care legislation, were essentially congressional Democratic products, albeit ones on which the White House helped facilitate congressional agreement. He predicts that while Obama's political instincts will remain pragmatic, conciliatory, and bipartisan, he will face an environment whose defining characteristics are not.and names the Dodd-Frank Act, health care reform, and the ratification of the START treaty as notable legislative achievements.
Owens, John E., and Riccardo Pelizzo, eds. 2010. The "War on Terror" and the Growth of Executive Power? A Comparative Analysis. London and New York: Routledge.
Abstract: The 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington prompted a "global war on terror" that led to a significant shift in the balance of executive-legislative power in the United States towards the executive at the expense of the Congress.rnrnIn this volume, seasoned scholars examine the extent to which terrorist threats and counter-terrorism policies led uniformly to the growth of executive or government power at the expense of legislatures and parliaments in other political systems, including those of Australia, Britain, Canada, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, and Russia. The contributors question whether the "crises" created by 9/11 and subsequent attacks, led inexorably to executive strengthening at the expense of legislatures and parliaments. The research reported finds that democratic forces served to mitigate changes to the balance of legislative and executive power to varying degrees in different political systems.

Substantive Focus:
Law and Policy SECONDARY
Economic Policy
Governance PRIMARY
Defense and Security

Theoretical Focus:
Policy History PRIMARY
Policy Process Theory