Understanding the Success of Presidents and Prime Ministers: The Role of Opposition Parties

Brendan McCaffrie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines three examples of reconstructive leadership in the 1980s: Reagan in the United States, Thatcher in the United Kingdom, and Hawke in Australia. It finds three primary ways that opposition parties contribute to the success of reconstructive leaders. Firstly, oppositions contribute negatively to the success of presidents and prime ministers through ineptitude and internal division. Secondly, they assist government leaders through engagement with their ideas. Oppositions may agree with the ideas of government leaders, enhancing the leaders' ability to achieve their desired changes. On the other hand, they may disagree and potentially diminish leaders' success. When opposition parties fail to win elections it discredits their alternative ideas, often leading them to adopt government positions. This entrenches the government position, enhancing perceptions of leaders' success. Consequently, when government changes hands, new government leaders consolidate their predecessors' changes – the third way opposition parties aid reconstructive leaders. Thus, oppositions contribute to the implementation of leaders' programmes and to their legacies, two crucial elements in assessing leaders' success
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-271
Number of pages15
JournalAustralian Journal of Political Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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