The Politics of U.S. Ambassadorial Appointments: From the Court of St. James to Burkina Faso

Richard W. Waterman, John Bretting, Joseph Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objectives: While there is great deal of scholarship on the nature of presidential appointments in the realm of domestic policy (e.g., cabinet departments and regulatory agencies), foreign policy appointments have received far less attention. Yet, these appointments are important because they have global implications, dealing with such basic issues as trade, diplomacy, war, and peace. We examine one type of foreign policy appointment, the ambassadorial appointments of Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Methods: We employ data provided by the U.S. Department of State and data collected from various sources on the background characteristics of their U.S. ambassadors. Results: We find that while both presidents promoted loyalty over competence in their ambassadorial appointments, they did so in different ways. The first President Bush used a personal "friends and neighbors" approach, while Clinton rewarded former campaign officials. Though it generally is assumed that presidents reward key contributors from their presidential campaign with key assignments, we find that Clinton was more likely than Bush to reward contributors with appointments to choice countries. Finally, we demonstrate that women and minorities received appointments of lesser quality during the Bush administration. Conclusions: The determinants of ambassadorial appointments are more complex than previously assumed. While presidents appoint ambassadors on the basis of campaign contributions, they do not reward them equally with plum assignments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-522
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Science Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by the Southwestern Social Science Association.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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