Presidential Position Taking and the Puzzle of Representation


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: We thank Paul Collins and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments. We appreciate Jun-deh Wu's assistance with data collection.


A significant debate rages in the literature. Although going public success is a function of mass public support for a policy, presidents respond to partisan liberalism in their public rhetoric. This presents a puzzle: how do presidents reconcile their need to target policies that are popular with the mass public to go public successfully, when they respond primarily to partisan opinion in their speeches? Our comparison of the president's policy proposals from 1989 through 2008 with both centrist and partisan public opinion reveals that presidents are more partisan than centrist in their policy priorities, which adds weight to the partisan representation side of this debate.