AUTHOR's NOTE: I would like to thank April Kelly-Woessner, Thomas E. Nelson, Jeremy Plant, Janet Box-Steffensmeier, Herbert Weisberg, and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions.
Scandal, Elites, and Presidential Popularity: Considering the Importance of Cues in Public Support of the President
Version of Record online: 8 FEB 2005
Presidential Studies Quarterly
Volume 35, Issue 1, pages 94–115, March 2005
How to Cite
WOESSNER, M. C. (2005), Scandal, Elites, and Presidential Popularity: Considering the Importance of Cues in Public Support of the President. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 35: 94–115. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-5705.2004.00237.x
- Issue online: 8 FEB 2005
- Version of Record online: 8 FEB 2005
Previous research on presidential job approval has neglected to consider how elites influence public assessments of the executive, particularly as it applies to potentially private misconduct. This article suggests that, in the aftermath of a major political event (such as a scandal), citizens look to elite rhetoric as a barometer of issue importance. Utilizing two distinct experimental designs, I show that, in the wake of a personal scandal, subjects rely upon elite cues to place the events in some political perspective. The first study focuses on evaluations of a fictional Alaskan governor. Responding to what they believe was an unfolding personal scandal, subjects assess executive performance based on the account of a randomly assigned counterfeit newspaper article. An analysis of subject evaluations indicates that cues provided by the political opposition were the most important factor in predicting assessments of executive job performance. The second study reexamines the importance of elite cues by testing whether or not a slight change in a political frame (regarding the Lewinsky scandal) can influence subjects’ evaluations of President Clinton. Consistent with the theory, the findings indicate that subtle changes in elite cues (framed by the language of the political debate) were a key predictor of the subjects’ evaluations of the president. While the findings do not directly contradict the traditional “peace and prosperity” models, they do suggest that a further consideration of elite messages is warranted.