Presidents and the Rhetoric of Recessions

30 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 28 Aug 2011

See all articles by Donna R. Hoffman

Donna R. Hoffman

University of Northern Iowa

Alison D. Howard

Dominican University of California

Date Written: 2011


Are presidents reticent during recessions? Some research indicates that presidents make fewer major and minor speeches when economic conditions worsen (Ragsdale 1984; Eshbaugh-Soha 2010). We examine whether this holds true with major discretionary speeches utilizing recessions as the indicator of poor economic conditions. In addition, we also investigate the subject matter of major discretionary speeches given during both economic expansions and contractions. Presidents potentially have an incentive during a recession to focus the attention of the public away from economic concerns, where they have little command and control ability, to foreign policy, where they do have more power to act unilaterally. We find that presidents are not reticent during recessions. During recessions, fewer average months elapse between major discretionary speeches than we find elapse during economic expansions. Furthermore, while presidents never talk about the economy at high rates overall, they do focus more than twice as many major discretionary speeches on economic topics during recessions than they do during expansions. We also find no evidence that presidents attempt to ratchet up the rate at which they discuss foreign policy during recessions in an attempt to divert attention from economic matters.

Keywords: presidential rhetoric

Suggested Citation

Hoffman, Donna R. and Howard, Alison D., Presidents and the Rhetoric of Recessions (2011). APSA 2011 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

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics