Presidential Responsiveness and Public Policy-Making

The Publics and the Policies that Presidents Choose
Jeffrey E. Cohen
Finds that presidents are responsive to the public in selecting issues to focus on, but pay less attention to public opinion when making a policy


We expect a president to respond to public opinion as an elected official in a democracy. Indeed, the president needs public support to overcome opposition to his policies in Congress and the bureaucracy. At the same time the president may want to pursue policies that do not have widespread support. How does public opinion affect presidential policy making? Jeffrey Cohen finds that presidents are responsive to the public in selecting issues to focus on. If an issue has captured the interest of the people, then the president will focus on that issue. Cohen finds that having chosen to work on an issue, presidents pay less attention to public opinion when making a policy. The president will try to maintain control over the details of the policy so that the outcome fits his policy agenda.

Cohen examines the way presidents from Eisenhower through Clinton have dealt with public opinion in policy making. He uses case studies of issues such as Clinton and gays in the military, Bush and the extension of unemployment benefits, and Kennedy and cutting the income tax, to explore the relationship between presidents and public opinion. In addition Cohen uses a quantitative analysis of State of the Union addresses and positions on roll call votes of presidents from Eisenhower through George Bush to test his theories.

This book should appeal to political scientists and historians interested in the presidency and in public opinion, as well as general readers interested in the history of the American presidency.

Jeffrey Cohen is Professor of Political Science, Fordham University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Using a combination of case studies and quantitative analysis, Cohen examines whether presidents respond to public opinion in their issue focusing and policy making. His detailed analysis covers the post-FDR era and is solidly grounded in much of the theoretical literature on the modern presidency. . . . The writing is clear, the data are impressive, and the analysis is thought-provoking."
  • Winner: APSA Presidency Section's 1999 Richard Neustadt Award

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 304pp.
  • 15 drawings, 26 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1999
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08630-6

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  • $31.95 U.S.

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