Politics or Policy? How Rhetoric Matters to Presidential Leadership of Congress

Authors


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: We would like to thank George Edwards, Ken Meier, Andrew Rudalevige, Victoria Farrar–Myers, Jeff Peake, Joseph Cammarano, Mary Stuckey, Jennifer Mercieca, John Murphy, Cigdem Sirin, David Ruigh, Jon Bond, and the anonymous reviewers for their instructive comments and advice, and to give a special thanks to Andrew Rudalevige for generous use of data.

José D. Villalobos is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas at El Paso. His articles have appeared in Political Research Quarterly, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Administration & Society, Review of Policy Research, and other journals.

Justin S. Vaughn is an assistant professor of political science at Boise State University. His articles have appeared in Political Research Quarterly, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Administration & Society, Review of Policy Research, and other journals.

Julia R. Azari is an assistant professor of political science at Marquette University. Her research interests include the American presidency, American political parties, and American political development and she has published in Perspectives on Politics.

Abstract

In this article, we examine the linkage between presidential policy proposal messages and legislative success. Employing a data set on presidential legislative proposals that covers the years 1949-2010, we find that politics matters less than policy. Purely political messages that reference the electoral logic of mandates or appeal to a sense of bipartisanship appear to have no impact on presidential legislative success, nor does policy signaling, though highlighting the role of agency-based policy experts in crafting legislation does. From these results, we conclude that although the way presidents communicate their messages to Congress represents an important component of presidential-legislative relations, it is instead the perceived quality of the legislation that more strongly shapes congressional support of presidential policy efforts.

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