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Building Public Support from the Grassroots Up: The Impact of Presidential Travel on State-Level Approval

Authors


Jeffrey E. Cohen is professor of political science at Fordham University and the author of several books, including Presidential Responsiveness and Public Policy-Making, as well as articles in numerous journals, including the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, and Journal of Politics.

Richard J. Powell is assistant professor of political science at the University of Maine and the author of journal articles and book chapters on the presidency, Congress, elections, and state politics, and co-author of Changing Members: The Maine Legislature in the Era of Term Limits.

Abstract

Presidential travel around the nation has become commonplace, yet very little research exists on its impact on public opinion. Although presidents “go public” for a variety of reasons, such as building and maintaining public support, existing research has been limited to examining the effects of going public on national-level support for the president. In this study, we argue that presidents target state publics (and other sub-national publics) when they travel around the nation. To test this possible linkage between travel and approval, we utilize data on presidential travel and newly available data on state-level presidential approval ratings. After controlling for various factors that affect the level of presidential approval at the state level, we find that a presidential visit results in a modest, statistically significant increase in the president's state-level job approval rating. Our analysis indicates that this effect is present only in non-election periods and in large states, suggesting that presidents are more likely to stimulate public support when appearing presidential rather than as candidates for office or as partisan leaders.

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