Follow the leader : opinion polls and the modern presidents



Transcription of Annotations

Notes on front endpapers: Decay curve, p. 166. Positive style works--Reagan/Kenn/Eis. Foreign policy helps pop. Press focuses on polls changes poll results. 1st 30 months of 8 Presidents. Legislative activity hurts popularity. Only speech making has positive effect p. 120. James David Baker. Notes/underlinings: Uneasy balance between being liked and being president. High cost of popularity in Bush administration. Authorship assigned alphabetically. Media commentary on how popular presidents are influences future popularity. Stories of declining popularity themselves influence popularity. Truman, ranked highest by historians of modern presidents, had the lowest poll ratings. Richard Neustadt. 9 presidents served in 40 years from Truman to Bush; five Republicans. Today electoral mandate continually updated/reviewed by public-opinion polls. Continuing monthly referendum on president's public support. Truman scored lowest of all modern presidents in the polls. Decay of support. Notes on Table 3.1 Bush? Truman 0 foreign travel; Nixon .48 major address, 1.23 foreign travel; Ford 4.41 domestic travel. General MacArthur 28% public approval for Truman. Ike's heart attack. Berlin. Cuban Missile Crisis. Nixon most divided president on popularity. Worked for it with greatest of attention, made choices that worked against it. Unfortunately for Nixon, no foreign crisis marred nation's attention to Watergate. Johnson demanded that all great society legislation be ready to go in the months following his landslide election. Presidents confronting opposing parties in Congress estimated to have 13% fewer victories. Presidents achieve legislative success either by being popular--and taking fewer positions--or taking more positions but sacrificing approval. Presidential authors-- danger of intellectual inbreeding since so many of the sources and authors knew and worked with one another. Truman, only president to campaign for own election on platform of how bad Congress was. Eisenhower's popularity partly product of not acting in a visible public fashion. Eisenhower/Truman both skilled politicians, opposites in many ways. Truman sought conflict/Eisenhower avoided it. Truman went out of way to show publicly that he did not care about opinion. Eisenhower worked behind the scenes to maintain that opinion at a very high level of support--made choices. Johnson like Truman, low in popularity, high in activity. Doris Kearns--LBJ did not see power as an end in itself but to "influence and dominate external behavior and conditions." Highest veto president--with Truman. Ranks as one of the most active presidents. High on domestic trips, associated with decline in support. Highest ranking: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR. Lincoln, Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt saw nation through its three most dramatic wars. According to ironies of presidential evaluation, the most critical circumstances become the presidents' good luck. Predicting presidential greatness--being in office during a war; being a war hero before assuming the presidency; and being assassinated. Patina of crisis becomes the patina of greatness as time goes by. In weeks after Germany's defeat in WWII, 87 % of Americans approved of way Truman was doing his job. By end of 1951, 23% approved. People equate presidential leadership with an active-positive mode, but do not elect such presidents. 86 to 50 in 9 months. Most presidents decline in popularity through their first three years. We expect public support to be the result of decay over time, negative and positive dramatic events, economic conditions, plus activities the individual president engages in. Bush active-positive style. Success rate in first year lower than that for all presidents except Ford. Bush's popularity event driven, supported by White House effort. Exaggerated popularity is costly--elected by 53%. Watergate and Vietnam--cast grave doubts on decision making in the White House. Illegal /unconstitutional acts might continue, but would not result in impeachment or resignation, given proper management at the White House. Polls. Although polls have not supplanted elections as democratic base for president's actions in office, at times they can supersede them. We often evaluate presidents based on their good/bad luck in office. Attention focused on low approval ratings makes them fall further. Much of the tune we listen to so attentively is not the voice of the people at all. Decay curve. Dramatic international events involving hostility are positive in impact whether or not the United States engages in force. Positive impact--highly publicized international incident of brief duration, involving the use of force by the United States. 8 percentage points in polls. While Bush distinctive in the volatility of his support, showed same influences as other presidents. The sharper the deterioration of economic conditions, the more likely, the use of force. Press report on polls. Journalists assume that poll ratings and public's opinion are the same thing. Reward presidents with favorable stories when polls are high, punish them when polls fall. Presidents cannot stop decay in popularity, or manage the economy in more than marginal ways. Every 10 point gain in public approval yields a 7 point gain in congressional success. Carter high in activity his first year, low in his second, by his third, he had it right. Rallying: highly visible international events, short in duration, with publicity supplied by the White House. Great presidents of American history faced circumstances of an unusually critical kind--they helped found the nation, preserve the union, lead the country in two of its major wars. Lincoln. Effort expended on maintaining public approval does not seem worth the results. Bush administration. What goes up artificially comes down swiftly. Even his foreign travel lowered his poll ratings. Debates and the media. Media used to announce the winners of presidential debates before viewers could form their own impressions. Networks discontinued practice. Simply knowing that bad economic times greatly increase the probability of a president using force can help to decrease the linkage between these events. pp. 185-188 Table II. Events numbered by Brian Lamb.


Brace, Paul, “Follow the leader : opinion polls and the modern presidents,” One Book. One Author. One Hour., accessed February 2, 2023,


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Follow the leader : opinion polls and the modern presidents


Brace, Paul


Program air date: November 8, 1992.


Paul Brace's account of how presidents, from Truman to Bush, have been shaped by changes in opinion polls.


"Presidents--United States."
"Public opinion--United States."


Brian Lamb Booknotes Collection
Gift of Brian Lamb, 2011.


George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections & Archives


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