Follow the Leader: Opinion Polls and the Modern Presidents

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With elections drawing fewer and fewer voters, today's presidents govern increasingly on the strength of support from (little understood) public-opinion polls. People are concerned that a public-relations presidency has become a dominant force in politics. Will war and peace be determined not on their merits but on their predicted poll impact? Follow the Leader is the first systematic account of how modern presidents from Truman to Bush have been shaped by changes in the polls and their own choices about them. ...
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Overview

With elections drawing fewer and fewer voters, today's presidents govern increasingly on the strength of support from (little understood) public-opinion polls. People are concerned that a public-relations presidency has become a dominant force in politics. Will war and peace be determined not on their merits but on their predicted poll impact? Follow the Leader is the first systematic account of how modern presidents from Truman to Bush have been shaped by changes in the polls and their own choices about them. What accommodations do the presidents make to polls? What have been the effects on foreign policy and legislation? Looking beyond individual cases in order to highlight trends, the book draws on the latest social science techniques to reveal influences on the polls that are beyond presidential control. The authors also explain how the media subtly affect our understanding of poll data. Some recent presidents are seen in a new perspective. Carter, for example, emerges as "the median president": average in activity, success in Congress, and public support. Follow the Leader shows that presidents often do make Faustian bargains on behalf of their popularity, but they get surprisingly little in return. For example, while it is true that the use of force by the United States abroad has followed bad economic times at home much more frequently than would be expected by chance, the use of force itself does not boost a president's popularity. In fact, foreign policy activities show a variety of different effects. There is an uneasy balance at best between being liked and being president. Conventional wisdom suggests that popular presidents are strong leaders. But Brace and Hinckley demonstrate that things are not so simple. Indeed, presidents who structured their agendas solely on the basis of public approval would often be making choices the American people would not support. The popular rating-the-presidents game, engaged in by journalists and the public, is pla
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Brace and Hinckley ( Symbolic Presidency, LJ 6/1/90) address the fascinating and complex role of opinion polls and their influence on the modern presidency from Harry Truman to George Bush. Solid political science research and precisely wrought prose identify major influences on approval ratings: erosion of confidence as the presidential term proceeds; economic difficulties; presidential addresses to the public; and dramatic events, from the coal and steel strikes of 1949 to the 1988 invasion of Panama. The authors also look at how presidents time their actions in order to increase their standing in the polls. They assess each president's performance and approval ratings, including an especially detailed look at the Bush presidency. Research methodology is mercifully relegated to the appendixes. Readers who want to understand the modern political process will find this book interesting and illuminating. Highly recommended for both academic and public libraries. Previewed in ``On the Campaign Book Trail,'' LJ 3/15/92.--Ed.-- Ebba Kraar King, Melbourne P.L., Fla.
Booknews
A systematic analysis of how presidents from Truman to Bush have been shaped by changes in the polls and their decisions about them. Both authors are political scientists. They find a precarious balance and an uncomfortable drama of action and reaction in response to approval ratings. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465013340
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/1992
  • Pages: 256
  • Lexile: 1220L (what's this?)

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