Making a President: Performance, Public Opinion, and the (Temporary) Transmutation of Donald J. Trump

67 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2018

See all articles by William G. Howell

William G. Howell

University of Chicago - Department of Political Science

Ethan Porter

George Washington University

Thomas Wood

Ohio State University (OSU)

Date Written: December 27, 2017

Abstract

Presidents routinely issue appeals to the American public. These appeals, however, are a great deal more than words on a page. They are embedded in public performances that are replete with symbolism and ritual. We show that such performances can systematically alter how the public views the president. Members of the public randomly encouraged to watch Trump's Inaugural Address and his first appearance before Congress were more likely to subsequently say that he fulfills the obligations, expectations, and norms of his office. Effects were particularly pronounced for people who initially reported lower thermometer ratings of Trump. We also find that the visual elements of political performances, not the content of speeches, leave the largest impressions. We find no evidence that these performances changed people’s policy views. These findings point toward new ways of assessing the character and significance of public appeals, beyond what is found in the existing empirical literature.

Keywords: Trump, public opinion

Suggested Citation

Howell, William G. and Porter, Ethan and Wood, Thomas, Making a President: Performance, Public Opinion, and the (Temporary) Transmutation of Donald J. Trump (December 27, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3111903 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3111903

William G. Howell

University of Chicago - Department of Political Science ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Ethan Porter (Contact Author)

George Washington University ( email )

2121 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Thomas Wood

Ohio State University (OSU) ( email )

Blankenship Hall-2010
901 Woody Hayes Drive
Columbus, OH OH 43210
United States

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