On Deaf Ears

The Limits of the Bully Pulpit

George C. Edwards III

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October 11, 2003
320 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300100099
Cloth

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American presidents often engage in intensive campaigns to obtain public support for their policy initiatives. This core strategy for governing is based on the premise that if presidents are skilled enough to exploit the “bully pulpit,” they can successfully persuade or even mobilize public opinion on behalf of their legislative goals.

In this book, George Edwards analyzes the results of hundreds of public opinion polls from recent presidencies to assess the success of these efforts. Surprisingly, he finds that presidents typically are not able to change public opinion; even great communicators usually fail to obtain the public’s support for their high-priority initiatives. Focusing on presidents’ personae, their messages, and the American public, he explains why presidents are often unable to move public opinion and suggests that their efforts to do so may be counterproductive. Edwards argues that shoring up previously existing support is the principal benefit of going public and that “staying private”—negotiating quietly with elites—may often be more conducive to a president’s legislative success.

George C. Edwards III is Distinguished Professor and the George and Julia Blucher Jordan Chair in Presidential Studies, Texas A & M University. A leading authority on the American presidency, he is also the author of At the Margins: Presidential Leadership of Congress, published by Yale University Press.

“That presidents use the ‘bully pulpit’ to exert influence in Washington is a truism of American Politics. What Edwards finds in this remarkable book is that the truism isn’t true, that presidents—even those at the top of their form—persistently fail to move public sentiment in preferred directions.”—James A. Stimson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Edwards has done it again! A bold, direct, convincing challenge to 30 years of literature. And (as he says) ‘conventional wisdom’ on ‘Going Public’ from the White House.”—Richard E. Neustadt, Harvard University, and author of Presidential Power

“Every serious scholar and student of American politics should read this book. It will surely be ‘must reading’ for any course on the American presidency.”—Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University

"Theoretically rich and methodologically rigorous . . . an instant classic that belongs on every syllabus in courses about the American presidency."—Costas Panagopoulos, Public Opinion Quarterly

"Edwards presents compelling evidence that, for all the power of the office, presidential rhetoric scarcely moves the public—or its representatives in Washington—on particular pieces of legislation. . . . Edwards leaves us with the provocative idea that we don't need a great communicator so much as a great negotiator in the White House."—Elvin T. Lim, Wall Street Journal (One of five best books about presidential rhetoric)

Chosen as one of the Five Best books on presidential rhetoric by Elvin T. Lim of The Wall Street Journal
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