Presidents And Persuasion

Posted by | March 23, 2012 01:00 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

It is accepted as relatively conventional wisdom that FDR and Reagan moved the American public with, as political scientist Richard Neustadt put it, “the power to persuade.”  Indeed President Obama is often cited as a disappointment because despite lofty expectations he hasn’t moved the electorate as much as his powerful predecessors.  In a fascinating article describing new research by George Edwards and Frances Lee, Ezra Klein says that Reagan and FDR may not have been as persuasive as commonly believed.

There is no reason to believe that F.D.R.’s storytelling faltered for a single midterm election, or that Reagan lost his persuasive ability in 1982, then managed to regain it two years later. Rather, the causality appears to work the other way around: Presidents win victories because ordinary Americans feel that their lives are going well, and we call those Presidents great communicators, because their public persona is the part of them we know.

Presidents have immense power over foreign policy and over the regulatory state.  Through these powers, they can affect the lives of millions and in doing so affect how people perceive them.  What they may not be able to do, whether they are FDR, Reagan, or Obama, is convince people to believe things they are not already disposed to believe.

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Copyright 2012 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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