When do leader backgrounds matter? Evidence from the President’s Daily Brief

Michael Goldfien, Michael Joseph, Daniel Krcmaric*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A wave of recent scholarship shows that the backgrounds of political leaders shape their behavior once in office. This paper shifts the literature in a new direction by investigating the conditions under which foreign observers think a leader's background is relevant. We argue that pre-tenure biographical attributes are most informative to outsiders during leadership transitions—unique periods where the new ruler does not yet have a track record—because a leader's background provides clues about how that leader might govern. But as time passes, foreign observers quickly discount the leader's biography and instead evaluate the leader's observable behavior. We test our theory by creating a systematic daily measure of attention to foreign leader backgrounds derived from the President's Daily Brief, a novel data source of 4991 recently declassified reports from the Central Intelligence Agency to the American president.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalConflict Management and Peace Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • President's Daily Brief
  • leader biography
  • leadership transitions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations


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