The Presidential Rhetoric of Hard Times

34 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 4 Sep 2010

See all articles by Donna R. Hoffman

Donna R. Hoffman

University of Northern Iowa

Alison D. Howard

Dominican University of California

Date Written: 2010


Is there a presidential rhetoric of hard times? We are interested in presidents’ rhetorical reactions during economic contractions. Do they rhetorically react at all? If they choose to speak, what do they seek to convey to the public about the economy? We analyze the major discretionary speeches presidents give during recessions. Some presidents are reluctant to address major economic remarks to the public; in five of the 11 recessions since World War II, presidents have not offered a major economic speech. They do, however, deliver major discretionary speeches on other topics during recessions. While most presidents tend to deliver more major remarks about non-economic subjects during recessions, Reagan is a notable exception. When presidents do choose to direct major remarks on the economy, we search for common characteristics in their rhetoric to examine if this subset of speeches classifies as a genre of rhetoric. We examine three dimensions in the speeches: orientation toward time, the tone of the remarks, and whether or not there is action specified. We found that there is no discernable overall pattern for how presidents orient their rhetoric in time, the speeches are more negative in tone than expected, and while there are a good number of action oriented sentences, the speeches are not uniformly action oriented. Thus, there is not sufficient evidence to suggest there is a uniform presidential rhetoric of hard times.

Keywords: presidential rhetoric

Suggested Citation

Hoffman, Donna R. and Howard, Alison D., The Presidential Rhetoric of Hard Times (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Donna R. Hoffman (Contact Author)

University of Northern Iowa ( email )

Cedar Falls, IA 50614
United States
319-273-5916 (Phone)
319-273-57108 (Fax)

Alison D. Howard

Dominican University of California ( email )

United States

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