Changing the Presidential Voice: A New Path to Leadership in a Partisan Era

32 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 3 Aug 2011

Date Written: 2011


Defining presidential leadership has always required a multifaceted approach as the office has not been imbued with extensive constitutional power. However, since 1986 when Samuel Kernell coined the term “going public” to describe how presidents lead via rhetoric, going public became the centerpiece of understanding the behavior of the president. The central tenets of the going public model focus on presidential rhetoric and public response, from a national perspective. Regardless of where presidents speak (daycare center, oval office), the audience is national and national public opinion polling demonstrates successful leadership through movement in that audience’s attitudes. In contrast, I contend that national going public strategies alone are no longer a viable leadership approach as the political context changed. I argue instead that presidential rhetorical leadership is in fact constituency driven and thus targets multiple audiences. Using DICTION, I distinguish between a national, universally American, presidential voice and a local, partisan voice. Thus, I argue that Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama articulate different styles of public leadership, which distinguishes between a national audience and a local audience as their environment to compensate for the lack of a reliable national constituency and a favorable media environment.

Keywords: presidents, rhetoric, leadership, obama, clinton, bush

Suggested Citation

Heith, Diane J., Changing the Presidential Voice: A New Path to Leadership in a Partisan Era (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Diane J. Heith (Contact Author)

St. John's University ( email )

8000 Utopia Parkway
Queens, NY 11439
United States

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