Presidents And Persuasion
It is accepted as relatively conventional wisdom that FDR and Reagan moved the American public with, as political scientist Richard Neustadt put it, “the power to persuade.” Indeed President Obama is often cited as a disappointment because despite lofty expectations he hasn’t moved the electorate as much as his powerful predecessors. In a fascinating article describing new research by George Edwards and Frances Lee, Ezra Klein says that Reagan and FDR may not have been as persuasive as commonly believed.
There is no reason to believe that F.D.R.’s storytelling faltered for a single midterm election, or that Reagan lost his persuasive ability in 1982, then managed to regain it two years later. Rather, the causality appears to work the other way around: Presidents win victories because ordinary Americans feel that their lives are going well, and we call those Presidents great communicators, because their public persona is the part of them we know.