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On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit
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Edwards uses poll data; he includes a study of numerous presidential initiatives that were accompanied at the time by poll data on public opinions. Hence, he compares presidential approval ratings from before a speech to those taken after the speech; opinions on a national issue over time, accompanied by presidential campaigns on that issue; and some surveys based on political affiliation. From this, he argues that presidential efforts seldom had an impact.
He scrolls through some case histories: Reagan, Clinton, and George Washington as separate examples of presidents who were (1) conservative "communicators," (2) liberal "communicators," and (3) enjoyed personal veneration. Arguably none of these figures effectively molded public opinion.
He turns to methods used, and how these methods were embraced, then abandoned, by individual administrations. It becomes clear that choice of technology follows campaigning fashion and initiatives from the opposition. Using the above-mentioned metrics, he concludes these are reliably neutralized by competition for the public's attention. Gradually he turns to the theoretical literature, comparing the empirical support for different understandings of how the presidency can affect public perceptions.
Occasionally Edwards' rightward bias damages his analysis, however. For example, he never admits the possibility that there were holes in Reagan's allegedly simple, conservative "philosophy"; the immense power of industrial lobbying groups used to take down Clinton's moderate health care plan is not even mentioned.Read more ›