Tag: Public Opinion

Party Trumped Policy in 2016

This is a guest post by Christopher Gelpi and Elias Assaf.  Christopher Gelpi is Chair of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies and Professor of Political Science and Elias Assaf is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at The Ohio State University, both at The Ohio State University

President Donald Trump adopted a variety of controversial and unorthodox foreign policy stances during the 2016 presidential campaign.  Since taking office, Mr. Trump has moved quickly to begin implementing many of these policies – including a border wall with Mexico, a ban on immigration from certain majority-Muslim countries, and withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  While Mr. Trump was very clear about his intentions during the campaign, public reaction to his implementation of these policies has nonetheless been quite negative.  Protests among left-leaning progressives in response to the anti-Muslim travel restriction are not surprising, but even prominent Republican leaders have been critical of Trump’s foreign policy actions since taking office. Moreover, according to Gallup’s tracking poll, President Trump’s disapproval rating rose sharply during his first week in office.  Within eight days of taking office, a majority of the public already disapproved of the job he was doing as President.

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Public Opinion in the Midst of the Syrian Civil War

I have been an admirer of Sam Whitt’s work for some time.  He has always done interesting research, being one of the first to study and publish on Katrina and run surveys/experiments on divided post conflict societies.   Whitt and his colleague Vera Mironova, conducted a survey of civilians and rebels in Syria during the Civil War.  assad duck

This fascinating study points out many problems and issues the international community will face as it tries to push for a peaceful solution to the Syrian Civil War.  Moving beyond the civil-military gap and also the more modern socio-military gap, Mironova and Whitt identify what might be called the civilian-rebel gap.  In Syria, most rebels are focused on revenge and removing Assad from power while the civilians are tired of the fighting, starving, and want the conflict to end now.  These growing divisions are important to understand as the international community pushes for a solution to the violence.  Often scholars fail to investigate the within group preferences of a domestic population and avoid examining active war zones, Moronova and Whitt attempt to do both.

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The United Nations and American Public Opinion

The following is a guest-post from Martin Edwards, professor at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Martin’s website is here.

How do Americans think about the United Nations? The results of recent surveys by the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project and the Better World Campaign offer some insights on this question. These organizations have tracked opinions on the United Nations since 2004 and 2009, and the findings are based on random samples of adults and registered voters, respectively. One of the findings in both surveys is that there are partisan differences in the opinions of Americans regarding the United Nations. A finding in the Better World Campaign survey helps us to better understand why these partisan differences exist.

The figure below aggregates the percentage of respondents who view the UN as either “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” in both surveys over time. Both surveys report an improvement of the UN’s numbers. In the Pew Research survey, the UN’s favorability numbers have gone up ten points since 2007, while the Better World Campaign reports a similar ten point jump since this time last year.

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How Do Americans Feel About Fully Autonomous Weapons?

Opinion_Ideology_AWSAccording to a new survey I’ve just completed, not great. As part of my ongoing research into human security norms, I embedded questions on YouGov’s Omnibus survey asking how people feel about the potential for outsourcing lethal targeting decisions to machines. 1000 Americans were surveyed, matched on gender, age, race, income, region, education, party identification, voter registration, ideology, political interest and military status. Across the board, 55% of Americans opposed autonomous weapons (nearly 40% were “strongly opposed,”) and a majority (53%) expressed support for the new ban campaign in a second question.
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Yes, Bush and Cheney sold the war, but why did Americans buy it?

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OK,  the 10-year retrospectives on the Iraq War are in and the debate is on.  Yes, Bush, Cheney, and the neocons sold the country a bill of goods on Iraq.  They are war criminals and should be held accountable.  Iraq was a strategic disaster, it was a financial disaster, and for far too many it was a human and humanitarian disaster.  Yes, yes, yes, the intelligence was faulty, the pundit class failed, Judith Miller was wrong, and the New York Times screwed up.  The list goes on.

But, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen all of this, and it won’t be the last. Read on and be sure to take the time to watch the video clip at the end. Continue reading

Romney is Alone in His Fear of Russia

Per Dan’s post below, I don’t understand why Russia is our number-one enemy, either today or ten years from now. Neither, it seems, do Americans, who have only noticed Russia’s phantom menace at one period in the past several years–immediately after the invasion of Georgia in 2008. Below, polling data from the Pew Research Center on the question of which country represents the greatest danger to the United States; these are not all the answers, but they are the biggest ones. Russia is the orange line. Note that these are free-response questions, which explains Iraq’s presence on the list and also (in the full version) why “South Korea” occasionally makes the list.

For Mitt, the Red coats are still coming.

Chicago CFR Survey Says….

A majority of Americans support a no-fly zone in Syria. I expect that  “no-fly zone” comes across as a relatively anodyne, costless policy to the US public. And, indeed, most of the policies that would be required to make such a zone work poll considerably less well. 

UPDATE: (via) Daniel Larson makes the same point, but with more words.

The Selling of the Iraq War: Case Study of Presidential Persuasion?

This week, a number of high-profile journalists and bloggers are engaged in a debate about presidential persuasion. Among other examples, they have been discussing the George W. Bush administration’s selling of the Iraq war — leading political scientists at the The Monkey Cage to weigh in with data and useful analysis.

Much of the discussion about the Iraq war centers around this chart, which details the contours of support for the war based on party identification.

I left the following in comments, but wanted to add key links:

The Bush administration really starting selling war in late August and early September 2002, so prior data is not especially relevant to the question of presidential persuasion.  Andrew Card was quoted in the NYT the 1st week of September 2002: “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” In August, Card formed the White House Iraq Group and on the 26th of that month, Cheney spoke to the VFW. From that time until war began in March 2003, Republican support for war increased by over 5% despite a starting position at nearly 80% — and despite open skepticism expressed in the NYT & WSJ by Bush I stalwarts James Baker & Brent Scowcroft. At the same time, Independent support for war remained flat at about 60%, and Democratic support remained between 45-50%. I’m pretty sure Gallup polling from the last 25 years showed 2003 as the nadir for Democratic party ID, meaning that at least some ex-Democrats were suddenly telling pollsters they were pro-war Independents or Republicans.

Some elites may well have become skeptical over time, but media coverage of the case for war was decidedly uncritical and newspaper op-ed pages were overwhelmingly pro-war, especially after the Colin Powell presentation at the UNSC.

In any case, the selling of the Iraq war was remarkable and fairly unique, so we should be careful generalizing from it.

Strategic narratives: An uncertain science

Timing is everything; I’m not sure its good to be publishing a paper about strategic narratives just as the US cuts its Advisory Commission on Public Dipomacy, although RAND have begun exploring this field. National-level policymakers still try to tell stories about where their state and the international system are heading and should head. To the extent these narratives create expectations, shore up identities, create buy-in from partners, or have other discernible effects, we can say strategic narratives matter. The investment states have made in their international communications infrastructures in the past decade indicates the hope that aspiring or existing Great Powers can get their story out to overseas publics and elites. At the same time, sometimes just having an ambassador who carries his own bag can create a good impression. The ‘science’ of strategic narratives remains uncertain.

Hence, colleagues and I are trialing a working paper ‘Forging the World: Strategic Narratives and International Relations’, available to download here. It is authored by Alister Miskimmon (Royal Holloway), myself and Laura Roselle (Elon/Duke), and is based on the keynote Miskimmon and I delivered to International Studies Association (ISA) South at Elon University in October 2011. It comes from our long disatisfaction with how IR scholars treat media, communications and questions of influence, and how media and communications neglect many of the power dynamics of IR. It also comes from our experience working with foreign policymakers as they try to show measurable ‘impact’ of the narratives, and their attempts to harness new digital methods to monitor overseas public opinion. We plan to publish a book developing these ideas late in 2012, and we have panels on the subject at ISA San Diego in April and BISA/ISA Edinburgh in June with some great scholars (Neta Crawford, Karin Fierke, Antje Weiner, Robin Brown, Monroe Price, Amelia Arsenault), so if you’re interested in please come along or look for the papers. For now, we’d really appreciate it if the Duck commentariat have comments on the paper.

Semantic polling: the next foreign policy tool

George Gallup –
what have you started?

The traditional methods for a state to know what overseas publics are thinking are changing. Instead of relying on your embassy staff’s alertness, your spies’ intelligence and the word of dissidents, we’re reaching the point where foreign policymakers can constantly monitor public opinion in countries in real-time. The digitization of social life around the world  – uneven yes, but spreading – leaves ever-more traces of communications to be mined, analysed and acted upon.  In a paper that Nick Anstead and I presented in Iceland this week, we called this ‘semantic polling’, and we considered the ethical, political and practical questions it raises.

Semantic polling refers to the use of algorithms and natural language processing to “read” vast datasets of public commentary harvested from the Internet, which can be disaggregated, analysed in close-to-real-time, and which can then inform policy. It can give a general representation of public opinion, or very granular representations of the opinion and behaviour of specific groups and networks. Multi-lingual processing across different media platforms is now possible.  Companies already provide this service to pollsters and parties in domestic campaigns, and NGOs make use of it for disaster response monitoring. Given how public diplomacy has adopted many techniques of the permanent campaign, it will be no surprise to see semantic polling become part of the foreign policy toolkit.


The semantic web is the standardization of protocols so that everything on the web becomes machine-readable. This means semantic polling is about more than reading social media data. In principle, our shopping, driving, social media, geolocation and other data are all searchable and analyzable. It is only a matter of computing power and integration of data streams for this method to profile to the individual behavioural level. This also enables predictive engagement: if Amazon thinks it knows what you want, then a state, with access to more data streams, might be use semantic polling and think it knows who will support an uprising and who will not.
Ethically, do people around the world know their tweets, public facebook data and comments on news blogs are being used to build a picture of their opinion? How should journalists report on this when it happens? Politically, how will states and NGOs use semantic polling before, during and after crises and interventions? Is it predictive, valid and reliable? Will semantic polling’s real-time nature further intensify the pressures on policymakers, since the performance, credibility and legitimacy of their policies can be visualized as they are enacted? Will publics resist and find ways to circumvent it? And given that it is barely regulated at the domestic level, how could or should it be policed in international affairs?
When we thought of this paper it seemed a little bit like an exercise in science fiction, but interviews with the companies, pollsters and social scientists driving this has convinced us this is developing quickly. Our political science audience in Iceland seemed positive about this – semantic polling offers relatively cheap, unobstrusive and ‘natural’ data that might provide insights into human behaviour existing methods cannot give. Perhaps a good first step would be for people around the world to understand how semantic polling works, so they can decide what they think about it, since it is their lives that are being monitored. 

The Lighter Side of Public Opinion Work

I have long thought that political science Ph.D. students should be required to watch all of Yes, Minister and some of the better parts of Yes, Prime Minister. Without beating a dead horse too much, prolonged exposure to the cynical-but-accurate view of politics the show presents (it is like a curdled West Wing–or, perhaps, what the post-hegemonic West Wing will look like) would prevent people from too easily assuming that the adoption of a policy by a democratically elected government is equivalent to the approval of that policy by the voters who selected the government. (Via Chris Blattman.)

Candid views from the troops.

I just finished reading Dominic Tierney’s new book How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires and the American Way of War. As the title suggests, he presents the standard American exceptionalism argument about why and how the US begins wars — that both the public and elites hold deeply entrenched beliefs of America’s “benign power” to transform the world. But, these same wars often end when the public and elites turn against these “crusades” after those we are there “to help” fail to appreciate the self-evident benefits of American military support and liberal values and institutions.

It’s hard to say when the US will end the war in Afghanistan given that there is still a tenuous elite consensus backing it. But a majority of Americans want out and reporting like the clip shown below from the Pech Valley — in which mid-level commanders and soldiers now openly question whether or not the US presence is making things worse in their area of operation — directly challenges the pro-war narrative and will almost certainly weaken elite cohesion. (It’s also striking to see a battalion commander state that the American presence helps the enemy.) Apparently, the Afghans are failing to appreciate the “self-evident benefits” of the American presence.

After Wikileaks; or, the next phase of Diffused War

In Diffused War, Andrew Hoskins and I argued we’ve entered a new paradigm of warfare. The wikileaks stories seem to confirm much of this account. War is mediatized, we wrote, as the institutions of war and those affected by war take a form governed by continual media recording, display and archiving. This creates diffuse causal relations between action and effect, since mediatization can amplify or contain the cognitive and emotional response any action generates in ways not dependent on the initial action itself. Militaries, NGOs, insurgents, journalists – none can predict the outcomes of their actions or the display of their actions. US and UK military practitioners did not envisage their communications going public, but their institutions allowed those records to exist. And as my Duck colleague Charli Carpenter notes, they’ve started shredding documents. This is to counter the greater uncertainty now faced by those conducting war. While who sees what, when, and where is usually largely controlled (most people still rely on mainstream media), the potential for surprises is permanent and unavoidable, such that the worst case must always be built into decision-making.



In contrast to the splutterings of military chiefs, for my students wikileaks is already the norm. So what should we expect to see next? Where might novelty lie? Let’s take a risk and look briefly at some ideas in contemporary art, which has long dealt with mediatization and how it reconfigures human relationships and our ideas of the image and representation. Nicolas Bourriaud recently wrote that, in our ‘control+S’ culture of instant archiving of all political and social life, ‘an insistence on the “here and now” of the artistic event and a refusal to record it are a challenge to the art world’.  What is notable now is what goes unrecorded or is not made public. He discusses Brian de Palma’s 2003 Iraq war film Redacted, which pieces together soldiers’ blogs, cameraphone footage and other media from the war to produce a style of ‘organized proliferation’ that is now common in TV and movies generally. Pushed to its limit, Bourriaud suggests, ‘the degree of spatial (and imaginary) clutter is such that the slightest gap in its chain produces a visual effect’. In other words, we now expect the depiction of war to amalgamate several media recording technologies, a chain of styles, textualities and episodes edited into any single news summary or Hollywood movie. And if a gap occurs, something is wrong. If no citizen-generated content emerges, that is surprising. If footage from the helicopter gunship’s point of view is absent from the news report, and we now know such a perspective is continually recorded, then at least a few members of the audience might begin to ask why there’s no footage. 


We’d expect the next phase of military media management to employ the full range of textual styles to which audiences are now accustomed. Its a question of credibility, and studies show audiences are far more savvy than military practitioners assume. With that in mind, instead of shredding documents and looking like you’ve something to hide, perhaps a truly pre-emptive PR agent would deliberately create a full, convincing range of leaks for wikileaks such that a controlled version of the worst is already on show. It would then appear there are no surprising gaps. 

Metrics for Winning Hearts and Minds

I often find myself in disagreement with Amitai Etzioni, but he does makes some sense in his recent Politico op-ed on Petraeus’ “metrics” for progress in Afghanistan:

The newest way General Petraeus plans to measure success in the war in Afghanistan reminded me of what the government did when its campaign to persuade the public to stop smoking did not make much headway. It stopped counting how many people had had their last cigarette – and started counting how many anti-smoking pamphlets it mailed.

…Gen. Petraeus has outlined five metrics of military success, including: ‘the elimination of Taliban sanctuaries outside the city of Kandahar and continued targeting of senior and mid-level insurgent leaders by U.S. Special Operations forces, an increase in the disappointing number of Taliban fighters brought into a government reintegration scheme, the development of newly authorized local defense forces, and improvement in the capabilities of Afghanistan’s national security forces.’

These measurements correlate very poorly with what the U.S. is seeking and with what General Petraeus argued to date was what he sought to achieve. Petraeus is famous for his counterinsurgency strategy, according to which one cannot win the war militarily, but only by building a ‘legitimate and effective’ government composed of the citizens of the country, so that those who would rebel will be enticed to come in from the cold.

True. The “metrics” the US needs to be looking for are the extent to which civilian sentiment is moving toward the government rather than toward the Taliban. But then Etzioni tells us that’s not happening – through reference to the same kind of irrelevant indicators (like how many areas the Taliban hold) that tell us something about Taliban strength but nothing about the views of the Afghan citizenry on the legitimacy of the government or US presence in the country:

To measure progress on this front one, would have to know, for instance, that, if following the last election, the public does feel that the Karzai government is more representative and less fraudulent? Hardly. Does the public feel that the Karzai government and its local representatives, including the police and army, are less corrupt? No indication to this effect. Do they feel minimally secure in their homes and public spaces? Evidence shows to the contrary; the Taliban has been spreading in the northern, non-Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and holding on to most of the Southern ones. According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office, Afghanistan is more dangerous now than at any time since 2001. Four years ago, insurgents were active in only four Afghan provinces. Now, they are active in 33 of 34.

Etzioni doesn’t cite the data he is quoting from, but recent polling data – precisely the type you would look at if you wanted to gauge Afghan sentiment re. their government and ISAF forces – suggests his interpretation is a wee bit too gloomy. The latest ABC poll from Afghanistan reports:

Sharp regional differences remain, with optimism much weaker in the main conflict zone in the country’s South. Nonetheless, overall 63 percent of Afghans interviewed in May said their country was going in the right direction, 66 percent expected improvements in their own lives a year off and 61 percent expected better lives for their children than for themselves. Each is a key measure of national cohesion. Two were lower than their levels last winter – positive ratings of the country’s direction, off by 7 points from late December; and expectations for a better life in the next year, down by a slight 5 points. Yet all remained far above their levels in early 2009, when development was stalled and the Taliban were seen as gaining strength.

If Etzioni is right that the correct metric for measuring success in Afghanistan is not insurgent body counts but rather the optimism of Afghan citizens – and I think he is – then by at least some indicators ISAF is not doing half-badly. Afghanis do see corruption as an issue, but the complete report shows this is not the key issue causing disaffection from the government:

Few in this survey, 8 percent, mentioned corruption as the single most important issue in bringing stability to the country, and 23 percent mentioned it as one of the top three issues (peaking at 31 percent in the South). That compares to 50 percent, as noted, calling security the single top issue, and 75 percent calling it one of the top three concerns. While corruption may be a serious obstacle to progress, security reigns as the top concern.

Moreover, the regions of the country where security is the worst are those regions where Afghans report the greatest willingness to work with Westerners.

However there’s a hitch in the poll that would support Etzioni’s claim that ISAF is losing ‘hearts and minds’: support for a democratically elected government is declining somewhat:

Preference for democracy as the best political system for the country fell from 32 percent in December to 23 percent in May; it now ranks third behind preference for an Islamic state, 45 percent, or a “strong leader,” 30 percent.

As the Langer report also points out, answers to the “strong leader” question (in both Iraq and Afghanistan) have historically spiked during periods of instability, so addressing the security situation in Afghanistan may reinvigorate Afghanis’ confidence in democracy as well.

A final note: how useful is public confidence in one’s government as an indicator of national stability? I don’t know, but for what it’s worth, Gallup reports only 17% of Americans trust their government to do the right thing most of the time, and 55% of Americans polled believe that quite a few government officials are “crooked.”

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

The new Global Views survey is here! The new Global Views survey is here!

I admit it, I usually look forward to the release of US and international public opinion data. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs just released this year’s Global Views survey aptly titled Constrained Internationalism: Adapting to New Realities. Only a quick look so far, but a couple of things jump out on first glance:

First, these views strike me as far more rational (in the Page and Shapiro sense) than the general tenor of elite and media discourse. In the past decade, the US has spent roughly half of the world’s expenditures on defense (i.e., slightly more than every other country in the world combined). Despite that, most Americans appear to believe that US influence and power in the world has dropped precipitously in the same time period. Apparently, not enough bang for the buck. As a result, the public wants to be more “selective” in engaging the world. No surprise here.

But, consistent with data over the past twenty years, this isn’t a call for isolationism. The attitudes continue to show support for the US to “do its share” to solve the worlds’ problems and include a lot of support for maintaining American military bases abroad coupled with a desire to see more multilateral burden-sharing. Seems to be a call for smarter international engagement with more diplomacy and less reliance on US military as the cornerstone of US policy.

Second, the public has far less faith in the utility of military power than it did in the months after 9/11. Again, given the fiascos in Iraq and and Afghanistan, no real surprise here. But contrary to the increasing chorus of “bomb Iran” or “let Israel bomb Iran” voices, these attitudes also carry over to assessments of US obligations to Israel in its feud with Iran. According to the Executive Summary:

“A majority of Americans (56%) think that if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran were to retaliate against Israel, and the two were to go to war, the United States should not bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel and against Iran.

Fewer than half of Americans show a readiness to defend Israel against an attack by its neighbors.”

The report does not reveal the saliency of these particular attitudes and the views could well change if we move from hypothetical survey questions to real world events. But, it is clear the American public is wary of yet another escalating conflict and war. And, while there is a long history of robust US public support for Israel, these views do strike me as carrying very real and additional risks for the Israelis.

Reputational Rhetoric: When does it work?

Over at FP.com, Stephen Walt provides a review of an interesting new book:

[M]y colleague Matthew Baum and his co-author, Tim Groeling of UCLA, have recently published an excellent book entitled War Stories: The Causes and Consequences of Public Views on War (Princeton University Press). Drawing on a wide array of empirical evidence (including opinion surveys, media content, and foreign policy decisions), they argue that the interaction between elites, media, and public opinion is a three-way process in which each group’s behavior is essentially strategic. Politicians try to use media to advance their aims; the media picks stories in order to maximize audience (or in some cases, to advance an ideological agenda), and therefore tend to favor stories that are novel or surprising (like when a prominent senator criticizes a president from his own party). Similarly, the public does not just consume the news passively; readers and viewers use various cues to gauge the credibility of different sources.

I have not read the book yet, but it certainly sounds interesting. I do wonder to what extent it may shed light on an idea I kicked around for my dissertation: the effectiveness of reputational rhetoric.

Reputational rhetoric can be defined as the strategic deployment by state leaders of rhetoric that implies a threat to the state’s reputation for resolve if a) the state backs down from a challenge or threat, or b) a state alters course in an existing conflict. The purpose of this rhetoric is to manufacture or maintain public opinion that is favorable to the leader’s preferred foreign policy. There has been quite a bit written in the literature about reputation and whether it matters, but mostly from the perspective of whether adversaries take a state’s reputation for resolve into account when determining how to react to threats or whether to challenge the status quo. What seemed to me to be missing in the literature is an examination of the extent to which the deployment of such logic and arguments by leaders is effective at swaying public opinion.

Leaders across time and space have often deployed reputational rhetoric in an attempt to rally the public. It wouldn’t take us long to find examples uttered by US Presidents from Eisenhower to Johnson to Reagan to Clinton to Bush. Sometimes this rhetoric is met with skepticism and disdain from the public, other times it is embraced–often during the same conflict. Furthermore, the use of this rhetoric is not bound by party or era. Understanding when such rhetoric is successful would seem to me rather important from an academic, policy, and political perspective.

So what might explain the success or failure of such rhetoric? I have a few notions (these have by no means been rigorously developed, just initial thoughts):

  1. Media: it may be that the degree to which the media is unified in its characterization of a conflict will help determine whether reputational rhetoric succeeds or fails.
  2. Filters: rather than looking at the media as a whole, it may be that the public relies on certain outlets or individuals as filters for the various opinions that exist around a policy. If those filters begin to adopt the same reputational rhetoric as state leaders it could sway the public.
  3. “Never Again”: reputational rhetoric may be more effective following a defeat or attack, as the impulse to regain a reputation for resolve and deter further attacks may be strong. Think about a gambler who loses a number of hands in a row and, rather than cut his losses, continues to place bets to recover what was his previously. Framing of the conflict as avoiding a potential loss or regaining that which was previously held may trigger greater support (prospect theory may tell us something about why, psychologically, this would be the case).
  4. Stage of a conflict: it may also be that reputational rhetoric works best during the early stages of a conflict when it appears there is much to lose unless action is taken and where victory seems probable. However, as the conflict drags on and victory seems less likely, the public may become more focused on preventing further losses (in terms of blood, treasure, and possibly even the state’s reputation for capabilities–i.e., the state can actually achieve military victory vs the state is simply willing to use force).

As I said, these are off the cuff thoughts. I would be curious what others have to say. Obviously, Patrick could comment on the potential power of reputational rhetoric as a rhetorical commonplace, particularly in the United States. Additionally, Jon has published on the interplay of political leaders, citizens, and the media when it comes to making the case for war.

Twitterpated by Bittergate

An unusually empirical op-ed in the New York Times today tests Obama’s hypothesis that “wedge issues take prominence” when voters are frustrated by “difficult times.” Larry Bartels uses polling data to demonstrate that in fact, more small-town working class voters believe the government can be trusted than urban voters making more that $60,000 a year, and the small town working class is also least likely to vote on social issues. David Park articulates a similar finding over at The Monkey Cage.

To be fair, Obama’s remarks were aimed at describing variation over time within a demographic, not variation across demographics. And if the analysis is true, it would seem to confirm his general observation, though it would mean he got the demographic wrong. Either way, we now have an opportunity to see whether Obama, on the face of new evidence not previously at his disposal, will “cling” to his former intuition, or revise his understanding in light of the facts.

Not that it matters. Only the media (and Obama’s opponents) are obsessed with his remarks – and judging by last night’s debate, with equally petty concerns such as flag lapels or politically incorrect comments by people he knows. (“Does your pastor love America as much as you do?” What conceivable bearing does such a question have on a Presidential race?) Obama himself would rather focus on more substantive issues, and not just when it serves him: he passed up several chances to attack Hillary over similar gaffes like the sniper fire at the Tuzla airport:

““Clinton deserves the right to make some errors one in a while. What’s important is to make sure we don’t get so obsessed with gaffes that we lose sight of the fact that this is a defining moment in our history.”

Judging by comments on ABCNews’ website after the first half of the debate, most viewers agree with Obama. Some excerpts:

“Last night’s “debate” was a disgusting, mind-numbing display of unprofessional, tabloid style journalism. Clearly, ABC looks down on voters if it thinks we want to listen to this garbage.”

“ABC should be ashamed. What about the great issues that Americans (according to all the polls) are really concerned about? Truly sad.”

“Everyone associated with that debate last night from ABC should be severely reprimanded and/or fired immediately – and a full public apology issued to the candidates and the american public as a whole.”

Perhaps this explains why the “bittergate” controversy has not affected Obama’s poll numbers for the worse. Americans are sick of mudslinging and of having their intelligence insulted. My hunch: voters this time ’round want a candidate who can be trusted and will speak to the issues rather than a cowboy(girl?) President capable of throwing punches incessantly but unable to get his/her story straight.

A Mild Plea for Assistance

As many readers of The Duck may know I am currently on hiatus working full time and writing my dissertation–a handful to say the least.

To that end, can anyone recommend any books or articles that do a good job of summarizing the literature on presidential rhetoric and its influence on public opinion? I am looking for literature on this topic generally, on presidential influence on foreign policy as well as presidential approval ratings.

Many thanks in advance!

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