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Does it Matter What Presidents Say? The Influence of Presidential Rhetoric on the Public Agenda, 1946-2003

Lawrence, Adam B. (2004) Does it Matter What Presidents Say? The Influence of Presidential Rhetoric on the Public Agenda, 1946-2003. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Although scholars have long recognized the president's pre-eminent status as an agenda-setter, there is surprisingly little evidence available to suggest that presidents can and do influence the public agenda. While a modest literature reveals presidential speeches as important determinants of the public agenda, the assumption that rhetoric matters, commonly made by students of the presidency, has been largely unaccompanied by the support of empirical evidence. As a result, the question of whether presidential rhetoric constitutes an important ingredient of agenda setting success remains very much open to debate. Based on an extensive content analysis of State of the Union Addresses from 1946 to 2003, this dissertation considers in three separate studies the influence of presidential rhetoric as a tool for setting the public agenda. The first considers the influence of several presidential rhetoric variables resulting from the content analysis on aggregate-level evaluations of the salience of 1,113 issues discussed by 11 presidents from 1946 to 2003. The second study estimates the influence of several moderators of the relationship between presidential rhetoric on the public agenda, based on the individual-level assessments of issue salience expressed by respondents following State of the Union Addresses given by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Finally, based on an experimental analysis in which 340 subjects were shown edited videos of a presidential speech, the third study examines the influence of the three specific forms of presidential rhetoric used by President George W. Bush in his discussion of the issue of the economy. The findings demonstrate that (1) presidents respond to environmental conditions fashioning their State of the Union rhetoric, (2) presidents use their rhetoric to move issues onto the public agenda and, by claiming credit, presidents also move issues off the public agenda, (3) presidential rhetoric not only influences the public agenda directly, among those who watch the speech, but also indirectly by affecting media coverage after the speech, and (4) the influence of presidential rhetoric is more pronounced among those who support the president, who share similar political predispositions as the president, and who are politically sophisticated.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Lawrence, Adam B.adlst15@pitt.eduADLST15
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBarker, David C.dbarker@pitt.eduDBARKER
Committee MemberRockman, Bert
Committee MemberCohen, Jeffrey
Committee MemberHurwitz, Jonathan M.hurwitz@pitt.eduHURWITZ
Committee MemberHansen, Susan B.sbhansen@pitt.eduSBHANSEN
Date: 25 June 2004
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 5 March 2004
Approval Date: 25 June 2004
Submission Date: 9 March 2004
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Faculty of Arts and Sciences > Political Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: political communication; political persuasion; president; presidential rhetoric; public opinion
Other ID:, etd-03092004-214449
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:32
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:36


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