Book chapter

Going Public and Presidential Leadership (2016)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Going public is the preeminent governing strategy of modern presidents. When presidents go public, they attempt to influence the decisions, actions, and opinions of others through speechmaking and other public engagement. Although some scholars of the rhetorical presidency show how presidents have used speeches to govern since the dawn of American democracy, the bulk of scholarship centers on the modern presidency, as both advances in communications technologies and changes in federal policymaking institutions spurred presidents to go public.Going public as a leadership strategy involves a variety of presidential speeches designed to reach a range of institutions and actors. Strategies include going local, speaking on national television, or saturating news coverage by sustaining attention to a top priority. The president's target audience can be Congress, the public, news media, or bureaucracy. Presidents have had some success going public, although the ways in which presidents have been successful vary by strategy and target audience.Going public is more than just presidential leadership of others. It is also about what incentivizes the president's efforts to use speeches to govern in the first place. Thus, a second focus of research on going public is what explains speechmaking and the tendency of presidents to respond to those institutions and actors that they also attempt to lead. The majority of existing research centers on presidential leadership of, and responsiveness to, mass public opinion, but the emergence of a more polarized public may influence why presidents go public and may change what political scientists conclude concerning going public and presidential leadership in a more polarized political age.