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Rethinking Presidential Responsiveness: The Public Presidency and Rhetorical Congruency, 1953–2001


Brandon Rottinghaus is assistant professor of political science and director, Bureau of Public Affairs Research, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844.


Several studies have examined the relationship between presidential action and public opinion; however, few explore a direct and continuous connection between presidential rhetoric and public opinion. To measure presidential rhetorical congruence with opinion, I construct a data set of matched opinion and policy statements from Presidents Eisenhower to Clinton. Confirming expectations (while contradicting others), I find no differences in congruent position taking between presidents who served earlier (Eisenhower to Ford) from those who served later (Carter to Clinton). Importantly, the election effect discovered in the president’s first term is repeated in the second term in advance of midterm or presidential elections. Methods of public communication present mixed results; statements made on television are less likely to be congruent with public opinion in the first term (but more likely in the second term) while statements made in public speeches are positive for second-term presidents, both points suggesting presidents do not “go quietly” into retirement.