This study aims to provide insight into the possible factors influencing executive clemency granting. Specifically, it will attempt to explain the decline of clemency granting from 1971 to 2014, as well as the dramatic increase in 2015 and 2016. Through an examination of the existing literature, I develop a theory, which synthesizes Richard Neustadt’s bargaining model, William Howell’s unilateral power framework, John Petrocik’s issue ownership theory, and Daniel Hayes’s trait ownership theory, in order to examine the relationships and causality between variables, which are national violent crime rates, presidential rhetoric used to emphasize or deemphasize crime, public concern about crime, and executive clemency granting. Utilizing this synthesized theory of presidential power, I will argue that crime rates, presidential crime rhetoric, and public opinion are all influential factors impacting executive clemency granting. Then, using a comparative case study of five U.S. Presidents: Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, I find crime rates to be influential on both presidential rhetoric and executive clemency granting. Additionally, I find public opinion to have no relationship or correlation to any of the other variables. These findings have significant implications, providing an examination and explanation of 1) the influencing factors on presidential decision making in the form of clemency granting and 2) how much power Presidents possess in the making of their decisions.


Moskowitz, Eric


Political Science


American Politics | Comparative Politics | Political History | President/Executive Department | United States History


President, United States, pardon, clemency, clemency granting, crime, public opinion, war on drugs, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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