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On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300115819
ISBN-10: 0300115814
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"That presidents use the 'bully pulpit' to exert influence in Washington is a truism of American politics. What Edwards finds in this remarkable book is that the truism isn't true, that presidents - even those at the top of their form - persistently fail to move public sentiment in preferred directions." James A. Stimson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill "Every serious scholar and student of American politics should read this book." Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University "Edwards has done it again! A bold, direct, convincing challenge to 30 years of literature." Richard E. Neustadt, author of Presidential Power "Theoretically rich and methodologically rigorous... an instant classic that belongs on every syllabus in courses about the American presidency." Costas Panagopoulos, Public Opinion Quarterly"

From the Back Cover

"Every serious scholar and student of American politics should read this book. It will surely be 'must reading' for any course on the American presidency."-Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (May 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300115814
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300115819
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #738,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
When the president addresses the nation, is he able to persuade? According to Edwards, the answer is, "No."

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.
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Format: Paperback
This book represents a wonderful work of political science. I use it in my graduate seminar on the Presidency. Edwards uses solid empirical evidence from the Reagan and Clinton Presidencies to solidly dismiss the conventional wisdom which suggests the powers of the bully pulpit provide the President with substantial power. For a more contemporary and light version of this same argument I would suggests Edwards other work, Governing by Campaigning.
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