The cornerstone of the public presidency is the ability of the White House to influence, shape, and even manipulate public opinion. Ultimately, although much has been written about presidential leadership of opinion, we are still left with many questions pertaining to the success of presidential opinion leadership efforts throughout the modern presidency. What is still missing is a systematic, sequential approach to describe empirical trends in presidential leadership of public opinion in order to expand on important scholarly queries, to resolve empirical disputes in the literature, and to check the accuracy of conventional political wisdom on how, when, and under what conditions presidents lead public opinion.
In The Provisional Pulpit, Brandon Rottinghaus develops a simple theory of presidential leadership, arguing that presidential messages are more likely to be received if there are fewer countervailing agents or messages to contradict the president’s message. He concludes, based upon the findings presented in this book, that the “bully pulpit” is largely provisional for modern presidents. The more the president can avoid the political echo chamber associated with partisan battles or communications, the better the chance the president has to lead public opinion.
The Provisional Pulpit adds an important layer of understanding to the issue of how and under what conditions presidents lead public opinion. All modern presidents clearly attempt to lead public opinion; often, due to factors outside their control, they fail.
This book is an exploration into how and when they succeed.