I would think that a president challenging the will of congress would cause congress to vote differently out of principle but am curious if this is true.

Throughout history, what is the percentage increase or decrease in congressmen and women who vote for a bill after it has been vetoed?

cross-asked on politics.stackexchange here

  • 1
    Well crafted hypothesis and collection plan. Kudo's & upvote. That said, I'm confused by the underlying theory. Why would the President's veto affect a Congressperson?? Congress is accountable to their constituency, not to the President. I can imagine that party members might want to support their party leader, but that will affect the first vote as well as the vote to overturn the veto. And won't be effective if the distinct prerogatives of the respective branches of government are relevant to the vote. (Doesn't matter what party the President is, if his veto affects your rice bowl.)
    – MCW
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 18:45
  • @MarkC.Wallace: If the congressperson votes to stop something the president did, then during the next campaign season attack ads will say "X asked the president to stop Y". If they vote to override the veto, those ads will say "X forced the president to stop Y". If either the president or the issue is very popular among the congressperson's constituents, that difference could certainly hurt their reelection chances.
    – Giter
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 19:11
  • @MarkC.Wallace: I'm afraid that my theory might belong to a different moment in time when politics was less rigid (did this time ever exist?). If a politician voted against something on the first vote because they don't believe in it, I could see the politician switching sides on the second vote if they think the veto is unjustified despite wanting it to become policy. There are constituents but congress also has to protect its assigned roles.
    – jonstieg
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 20:41
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    One thing that makes questions like this very hard to answer is that very often if a veto override vote is expected to fail, it is not held in the first place. So if something passed the senate by 59-41 and a veto override was not put up for vote as the everyone knew it was pointless, we have no idea if the override tally would have been, say, 60-40.
    – user15620
    Commented Mar 15, 2019 at 19:58

1 Answer 1


I don't think it makes a lot of sense to compare numbers, because they are completely different kinds of votes, with different thresholds. But we can look at some historic trends.

First off, veto overrides are quite rare. It has to be an issue both houses of Congress have 2/3rds support for, yet the POTUS doesn't want. If its clear that level of support is unobtainable, then there no reason to hold the vote, and the veto will just be left to stand.

Secondly its an implicit rebuke to the sitting President. Generally the POTUS is also the figurehead of his party, so many folks who might otherwise support the law in question would be loathe to vote to override their own leader's veto. Conversely, many who might be lukewarm on the law might be quite happy to vote to override the other party's leader.

The very first veto in US history didn't happen for more than 50 years. In that case the POTUS in question was a lame duck ascended VP who had campaigned against his own party in the election. It was another 4 presidents later before there was a second veto override.

To be fair, vetoes themselves were much rarer back then as well.

The most recent veto override was in late 2016 of the Obama administration. Again, this was while he was technically a lame duck. The leader of his party running for President at the time was Hillary Clinton, so there wasn't that much of a downside to the party in voting against the President on this one. That was Obama's only veto override.

His predecessor GWB had 4 veto overrides. All of them came from the 110th Congress, in which the Democrats (barely) held both chambers, and all but one of them came in his last year in office.

  • Great story in that link. Seems like there have been over 100 veto overrides throughout history (5% of 2500 = 125). I think there's probably a lot of data in there and that your theory of a president in a weak position is more correct that congressmen taking a stand.
    – jonstieg
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 20:52
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    @jonstieg - There have been 111 overridden vetos to date. There probably is indeed some good info about the operating constraints of the US Congressional system to be gleaned from there, if you are careful how you use it. Things do change over time. The USA pre-Civil war is not the USA post, and the dynamics of the current operating party system can have knock-on effects as well.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 21:30

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