Get access

Opening the President's Mailbag: The Nixon Administration's Rhetorical Use of Public Opinion Mail


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wish to thank George Edwards, Dick and Jane LeRoy, and two anonymous reviewers in helping to hone the final version of the article. I also wish to thank the University of Idaho's University Research Office and the Bureau of Public Affairs Research for financial support of this project.

Brandon Rottinghaus is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Houston. His research and teaching interests include the presidency, public opinion, executive-legislative relations, and research methods. His work on these subjects has appeared in Journal of Politics, Public Opinion Quarterly, Political Science Quarterly, American Politics Research, and Congress and the Presidency, among others, and a forthcoming edited book from Cambridge University Press.


In this article, I extend the empirical discussion of the instrumental value of public opinion by exploring the uses of public opinion mail to advance the political goals of the Nixon White House, in particular in their rhetorical construction of public opinion. I draw on internal archival material from the Nixon White House demonstrating the Nixon administration's desire to use public opinion mail for rhetorical purposes and combine this archival analysis with a collected data set of public presidential statements referencing public opinion mail. I find that President Richard Nixon referred to public opinion mail to demonstrate the harmony of his position with the public interest, especially on salient issues, including the Vietnam War and the wage and price freeze, and to humanize his policy positions.