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Turkey Farms, Patronage, and Obama Administration Appointments

41 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2009 Last revised: 7 Oct 2009

Gabriel Horton

Vanderbilt University

David E. Lewis

Vanderbilt University - Department of Political Science; Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: September 25, 2009


In this paper we use new data on over 1,000 persons appointed to positions in the first six months of the Obama presidency to expand our understanding of presidential appointments and modern patronage practices. We use systematically collected appointee biographical data to determine which agencies receive appointees with fewer qualifications and more extensive campaign experience or political connections. We finds that presidents tend to place patronage appointees in those agencies that are less central to the president’s agenda, with the same political ideology as the president, and where appointees are least able to hurt agency performance. We conclude that the controversial role of patronage in the modern presidency embodies the deeper conflict that emerges from a need for both presidential accountability and broader government performance.

Keywords: executive branch, appointments, presidency, personnel, patronage

Suggested Citation

Horton, Gabriel and Lewis, David E., Turkey Farms, Patronage, and Obama Administration Appointments (September 25, 2009). Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 09-24; Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 09-24. Available at SSRN: or

Gabriel Horton (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University ( email )

Nashville, TN 37240
United States

David Lewis

Vanderbilt University - Department of Political Science ( email )

VU Station B #351817
Nashville, TN 37235-1817
United States
615-322-6222 (Phone)

Vanderbilt University - Law School

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

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