Micro- and Macrolevel Models of the Presidential Expectations Gap

Authors


Hank C. Jenkins-Smith (hjsmith@bushschool.tamu.edu) is professor of public policy at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4220. Carol L. Silva (csilva@bushschool.tamu.edu) is assistant professor of public policy at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4220. Richard W. Waterman (rwate2@uky.edu, richardwaterman@alltel.net) is professor of political science, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0027.

Abstract

The idea that the public expects more from its presidents than they are able to deliver long has been a mainstay of the presidential literature. When presidential scholars ask whether the expectations gap exists, they generally provide microlevel explanations that focus on the relationships among various presidential characteristics and how these characteristics are perceived by the public. This approach makes sense if expectations are chiefly responsive to perceptions of the Presidency itself. Yet, recent research empirically identifies an expectations gap in public perceptions of Congress and the president. These studies provide a theoretical reason to believe that macrolevel political phenomena, or public perceptions of the broader governmental system, also may be determinants of the gap. These macrodeterminants might include general beliefs about the responsiveness, efficacy, and trustworthiness of government. Using two national surveys conducted in 1998 and 1999, we test three related microlevel explanations and two macrolevel explanations for the gap's existence. While we find support for microlevel explanations, importantly, we demonstrate that macrolevel phenomena such as trust in government, perceptions of political efficacy, and individual political attitudes are important determinants of presidential, incumbent, and weighted models of the expectations gap.

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