The role of public opinion in American democracy has been a central concern of scholars who frequently examine how public opinion influences policy makers and how politicians, especially presidents, try to shape public opinion. But in Speaking with the People’s Voice: How Presidents Invoke Public Opinion, Jeffrey P. Mehltretter Drury asks a different question that adds an important new dimension to the study of public opinion: How do presidents rhetorically use public opinion in their speeches?
In a careful analysis supported by case studies and discrete examples, Drury develops the concept of “invoked public opinion” to study the modern presidents’ use of public opinion as a rhetorical resource. He defines the term as “the rhetorical representation of the beliefs and values of US citizens.”
Speaking with the People’s Voice considers both the strategic and democratic value of invoked public opinion by analyzing how modern presidents argumentatively deploy references to the beliefs and values of US citizens as persuasive appeals as well as acts of political representation in their nationally televised speeches.
What Readers Are Saying:
“Drury explores “invoked public opinion” and he manner in which “modern presidents deploy references to the beliefs and values of US citizens in their national televised speechers” to either persuade or represent them. While acknowledging a sizable literature focused on the former, he urges scholars to pay more attention to the latter. In his analysis, the author considers the role of three common varieties of arguments: bandwagon, identity, and contra populum appeals that serve as correctives to public opinion. He then explores a number of case studies – including Nixon’s 1969 Vietnamization appeal (bandwagon), Carters 1979 “crisis of confidence” speech (identity), and George W. Bush’s 2005 defense of his Iraq policy (contra populum)—to explain how each type of appeal operates. To Drury, presidents must focus on both “leadership of” and “leadership by” public opinion, as persuading others and providing representation are both critical to effective leadership. Highly recommended.” — Choice
“. . . not only reminds us that studies of presidential leadership of the public should not concurrently consider responsiveness, it also demonstrates various ways that presidents invoke public opinion in order to lead it. As the author himself calls for more research on this topic, I think that this book, and especially the specific case studies examined, may encourage both graduate students and scholars of presidential leadership to respond.”—Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, University of North Texas
“For well over two decades, a cross-disciplinary debate over the proper way of conceptualizing presidential rhetoric and its effects (or lack thereof) has raged sporadically, pitting humanists in communication and English departments against increasingly positivist political scientists. . . Speaking with the People’s Voice: How Presidents Invoke Public Opinion is at once an example of a continuation of this trend and a work those who seek to transcend it should read and consider seriously.”—Political Science Quarterly