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Presidential Rhetoric and the Public Agenda

Jeffrey E. Cohen
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 39, No. 1 (Feb., 1995), pp. 87-107
DOI: 10.2307/2111759
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2111759
Page Count: 21
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Presidential Rhetoric and the Public Agenda
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Abstract

The theory of presidential influence over agenda setting is used to predict the impact of presidential rhetoric over the public's agenda. The more attention presidents give to policy areas in their State of the Union Addresses, the more concerned the public becomes with those policy areas. Time-series regression analysis of data collected from content analyses of presidents' State of the Union Addresses on the Gallup Poll's Most-Important Problem Series from 1953-89. Increases in presidential attention to economic, foreign, and civil rights policy lead to increases in public concern with those policies. These results hold with controls for past public concern and objective conditions. Mere presidential mentions of a policy area seem to elicit a public response, thus, presidents do not have to resort to substantive arguments to sway public opinion. But popular presidents seem no more influential than unpopular ones and these presidential leadership effects decay within a year, except for foreign policy, which shows effects lasting across the year.

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