Eat The Press has beaten the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza in political science, in a rout. Let's go to the Eat The Press telestrator for the details.
Ain't what it used to be? The suggestion being that it was once something special? That was Cillizza's argument -- that a once super-powerful bully pulpit had been wrecked and diminished by "the ubiquity of news," "the pace of news" and "the polarization of the country." But none of that was true. There was never such a thing as a powerful bully pulpit. People like Cillizza just simply tended to badly overrate the abilities of presidents to persuade:
Our main point was this:
Cillizza goes on at length to say that the "bully pulpit is less bully these days." He takes a good stab at explaining why this is. In his brief, Cillizza says that there are a lot of news organizations now -- "a million smaller shards [of media] makes that sort of agenda-driving incredibly difficult." He also says that the news moves at a frenetic pace that precludes "pro-activeness," and forces "reactiveness." Also, "America is so polarized," et cetera. But the plain and simple truth is that the bully pulpit is already zero bully, and it has been for a long time, so it is really hard to see how it can get less bully than "no bully."
Eat The Press assembled The Avengers Of Political Science, like we were Nick Fury or something. Leading off, historian George Edwards:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside chats are perhaps the most frequently cited example of Presidential persuasion. Cue Edwards: “He gave only two or three fireside chats a year, and rarely did he focus them on legislation under consideration in Congress. It appears that FDR only used a fireside chat to discuss such matters on four occasions, the clearest example being the broadcast on March 9, 1937, on the ill-fated ‘Court-packing’ bill.” Edwards also quotes the political scientists Matthew Baum and Samuel Kernell, who, in a more systematic examination of Roosevelt’s radio addresses, found that they fostered “less than a 1 percentage point increase” in his approval rating. His more traditional speeches didn’t do any better. He was unable to persuade Americans to enter the Second World War, for example, until Pearl Harbor.
Presidential speeches don’t tend to persuade people on policy either. Take the “Great Communicator,” Ronald Reagan. In "The Strategic President," George Edwards shows that Reagan could not move opinion on signature issues like aid to the contras. And Reagan’s advocacy for increased defense spending was soon followed by a decrease in support for additional defense spending. Public opinion on government spending often moves in the opposite direction as presidential preferences and government policy.
As I pointed out back in February 2005, in the context of President Bush's push for private accounts in Social Security, the evidence indicates that presidents and political elites can rarely move public opinion significantly in their direction through PR campaigns. But the myth of the bully pulpit persists because journalists are generally ignorant about political science or quantitative evidence more generally.
"Time and again, I would speak on television, to a joint session of Congress, or to other audiences about the problems in Central America, and I would hope that the outcome would be an outpouring of support from Americans … But the polls usually found that large numbers of Americans cared little or not at all about what happened in Central America … and, among those who did care, too few cared … to apply the kind of pressure I needed on Congress."
"Presidential persuasion is way overrated." Yep!
4. Now Eat The Press is all:
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