Persistent Unilateral Action

50 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2022 Last revised: 9 Aug 2022

See all articles by David Foster

David Foster

Kenyon College Department of Political Science

Date Written: August 2, 2022


Many believe that unilateral action is easier to reverse than legislation. I argue that a selection effect contributes to this phenomenon: unilateral implementation and subsequent rescission can both stem from weak underlying constituent groups. Further underscoring groups' role, unilateral action sometimes survives a purportedly opposed new president. An example is the Trump Administration's failure to roll back the Obama Justice Department's lax stance on cannabis. Policy feedback effects can account for this. When a shift in policy generates financial resources for supporters, the conditions that had perpetuated the previous policy regime may no longer exist. Weak constituents' policy demands may thus need to rely on a sympathetic president's unilateral action to begin a feedback loop, subsequently softening opposition. This work therefore identifies unilateral action as a key tool for shifting policy in an enduring way, explaining its success or failure in terms of the power of groups.

Keywords: Unilateral action, policy feedback effects, public policy, interest group politics, formal model

Suggested Citation

Foster, David, Persistent Unilateral Action (August 2, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

David Foster (Contact Author)

Kenyon College Department of Political Science ( email )

Gambier, OH 43022
United States
202-656-2541 (Phone)

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