“Reflections of Yesterday”: George H. W. Bush's Instrumental Use of Public Opinion Research in Presidential Discourse


  • Wynton C. Hall is instructor of communication at Bainbridge College. His research and publications explore the intersection between presidential rhetoric and public opinion. He is coeditor (along with Martin J. Medhurst and Martin Carcasson) of the forthcoming volume Presidential Rhetoric: An Annotated Bibliography, which is currently under contract with Texas A & M University Press


This essay employs archival data and myriad interviews with principals from the Bush administration to explore how George Herbert Walker Bush used public opinion research in the process of rhetorical invention throughout his presidency. The author argues that Bush's aversion to political marketing, disdain for rhetoric, and bifurcation between campaigning and governance created a president whose instrumental poll usage for rhetorical purposes was much less than his predecessor, and intentionally so.

I believe that President Bush's attitude toward polls must have been about the same as it was toward speeches. that it was not legitimate, that it was not real leadership, that it was somehow phony and artificial.