Persuading the Public
The Evolution of Popular Presidential Communication from Washington to Trump
Sales Date: March 6, 2023
192 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- Published: March 2023
- Published: July 2023
- Published: March 2023
In Persuading the Public, Anne Pluta rethinks the established narrative of presidential communication and offers a bold new way of thinking about how presidents have reached the American public.
Most presidential scholars claim that the “rhetorical presidency,” in which presidents seek to engage directly with the public and appeal to the nation as the basis for governance, emerged at the turn of the twentieth century, shifting away from the constitutional norms of the nineteenth century when presidential communication was purely ceremonial and exceedingly rare. Pluta challenges this head-on by arguing that even the earliest presidents understood their unique relationship with the public and sought to leverage this connection through popular communication.
Pluta offers up her alternative theory of opportunistic communication in this comprehensive assessment of the popular communication practices of American presidents from 1789 to 2021. Her new argument of opportunistic communication explains the relationship between the president and the people in terms of a framework of opportunities structured by technology, the media environment, enfranchisement, and party politics—not constitutional norms.
This fresh reassessment is based on Pluta’s unique dataset of thousands of presidential public speeches, including more than 3,000 instances of pre-1929 presidential rhetoric. While the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have often been overlooked by political scientists, Pluta argues that it is an essential period to understanding presidential communication. Using a massive original dataset with a multimethod analysis, she offers a new theoretical approach to understanding how and why presidential communication has evolved.
"This excellent book makes an important contribution to discussions of the ‘rhetorical presidency. Highly recommended. ’"—Choice
“This book is a major scholarly achievement, combining a new and impressively comprehensive database with an innovative theoretical framework. It significantly advances knowledge and understanding of the presidential practice of ‘going public,’ and is now an essential resource in the field.”—Mel Laracey, professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, author of Presidents and the People: The Partisan Story of Going Public and Informing a Nation: The Newspaper Presidency of Thomas Jefferson
“Deeply historical and richly textured, Persuading the Public offers a well-written and provocative account of presidential communication from Washington to Trump. A valuable contribution to conversations about presidential rhetoric, the rhetorical presidency, and the institutional environments that constrain and incentivize both, this book will interest political scientists, scholars of rhetoric and presidential communication, and all those interested in presidents and presidential history.”—Mary E. Stuckey, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences, Pennsylvania State University
“With Persuading the Public, Anne Pluta has produced an impressive piece of scholarship. She covers a lot of ground, delivering a nuanced and thoughtful understanding of the impact newspapers, radio, TV, YouTube, and other social media, have had throughout presidential history. In this multimethod, crisply written, and engaging volume, she provides a comprehensive overview of the presidency as an institution, presidents as individuals, and how they fit in and shaped various periods of the evolution of presidential communication. This book will find a home in classrooms and on the research shelves of scholars of American politics, the presidency, American political development, and political communication.”—Daniel E. Ponder, L. E. Meador Professor of Political Science, Drury University
“Pluta offers a rigorous, data-driven approach to the study of presidential rhetoric in US history. She brings nuance and a fresh lens to a long-standing debate. This book challenges our understanding of the topic and is an essential read for presidential scholars.”—Julia R. Azari, professor of political science, Marquette University, and author of Delivering the People’s Message: The Changing Politics of the Presidential Mandate
1. Going Elite: George Washington to John Q. Adams, 1789-1828
2. Going Partisan: Andrew Jackson to Abraham Lincoln, 1829-1865
3. Going Regional: Andrew Johnson to Benjamin Harrison, 1866-1893
4. Going Almost National: Grover Cleveland to Woodrow Wilson, 1894-1921
5. Going National: Warren G. Harding to George H. W. Bush, 1922-1992
6. Going Targeted: William Clinton to Donald J. Trump, 1993-2021
Appendix: Data for Inaugural Addresses and Annual Messages