Presidential Road Show: Public Leadership in an Era of Party Polarization and Media Fragmentation

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 11/20/2012
  • Publisher: Routledge
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In The Presidential Road Show: Public Leadership in a Partisan Era, Diane J. Heith evaluates presidential leadership by critically examining a fundamental tenet of the presidency: the national nature of the office. The fact that the entire nation votes for the office seemingly imbues the presidency with leadership opportunities that rest on appeals to the mass public. Yet, presidents earn the office not by appealing to the nation but rather by assembling a coalition of supporters, predominantly partisans. Moreover, once in office, recent presidents have had trouble controlling their message in the fragmented media environment. Analyses of presidential behavior belie the presence of national leadership. Presidents give fewer addresses to the nation, preferring instead to speak in smaller, local venues. In addition, these efforts at going public barely influence public opinion or congressional action. Using a data set containing not only speech content but also the classification of the audience, Diane J. Heith finds that rhetorical leadership is constituency driven and targets different audiences at different times and in different places. Moreover, the scope of electoral victory influences presidential leadership strategies. Comparing tone, content, and tactics of national and local speeches reveals that presidents are abandoning national going public strategies in favor of local leadership efforts that may be tailored to the variety of political contexts a president must confront.

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