Speaking with the People's Voice: How Presidents Invoke Public Opinion

By Hudkins, Jay M. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, June 2015 | Go to article overview

Speaking with the People's Voice: How Presidents Invoke Public Opinion


Hudkins, Jay M., Presidential Studies Quarterly


Speaking with the People's Voice: How Presidents Invoke Public Opinion. By Jeffrey P. Mehltretter Drury. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014. 195 pp.

Scholars who study the discourse of America's contemporary presidents are familiar with the rhetorical presidency, the idea that presidents often circumvent Congress, instead appealing directly to public opinion to garner support for their presidential vision. As Jeffrey P. Mehltretter Drury notes in his exhaustive review of the extant literature on the rhetorical presidency, academic scholarship frequently evaluates presidential leadership success based on persuasive appeals to public opinion and the subsequent changes in public opinion polls following the communication event (p. 6).

In Speaking with the People's Voice, however, Drury argues that a "complementary explanation" for evaluating presidential leadership involves examining how "presidential rhetoric might serve not only as leadership of public opinion but also as leadership by public opinion, in which public opinion is the means of leadership" (p. 9). His book, therefore, reframes the conventional practice of studying how presidents outline their policy agendas through their rhetorical appeals to public opinion, advancing the case that scholars should explore how presidents exercise their leadership through "invoked public opinion," which Drury defines as "the rhetorical representation of the beliefs and values of US citizens" (p. 12). Scholars in the communication, political science, and presidential studies fields will find that this book does, in fact, provide new insight into how contemporary presidents exercise their leadership, even as they cast the rhetorical presidency to fit present-day exigencies.

After establishing the requisite background justifying his study in the first half of the introductory chapter, Drury provides readers with a brief synopsis on argumentation theory and the three argumentative patterns he employs in his study of modern presidential rhetoric and invoked public opinion: bandwagon appeals, identity appeals, and contra populum appeals. Most argumentation theorists will already be familiar with the bandwagon appeal. Drury describes the identity appeal as a pattern in which the "president invokes a public opinion shared by his audience as a catalyst for further agreement" while defining contra populum ploys as those "appeals 'against the people' [that] function to correct the invoked public opinion by means of alternative decision-making criteria" (p. 19). The book applies each appeal in Chapters 2, 3, and 4, respectively, by examining nationally televised presidential speeches from both Democratic and Republican presidents.

Drury provides a well-articulated discussion of the rhetorical situations that prompted presidents to address the public via television (although readers familiar with the speeches included in this analysis should revisit them, given the innovative application of the three argumentative patterns). …

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