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Party Polarization and the Ascendance of Bipartisan Posturing as a Dominant Strategy in Presidential Rhetoric


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to thank Joseph Delfino for outstanding research assistance, and Stephen Skowronek, Bruce Miroff, Matthew Grossman, Brian Schaffner, Ray LaRaja, Tatishe Nteta, Maryann Barakso, and Bruce Desmarais for helpful comments and criticism. I gratefully acknowledge support from a Faculty Research Grant from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


How do changes in the intensity of party conflict shape presidents' public presentations of self? Are presidents' public statements about parties and partisanship consistent with their political maneuvers behind the scenes? When do presidents have incentives to obfuscate about their party leadership efforts? Drawing on comprehensive data on presidents' public utterances about the parties and on qualitative information about presidents' strategic incentives and activities, this article shows that presidents have responded to increasing partisan polarization among members of Congress and party activists by adopting a more bipartisan leadership posture. The evidence suggests that presidents' increasing invocation of bipartisan themes does not mean that presidents have become more consensus-minded; rather, presidents use bipartisan rhetoric strategically, in an effort to cultivate support from voters disaffected by partisan conflict.