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Presidential debates, partisan motivations, and political interest.

Presidential campaign debates remain one of the last opportunities for candidates to directly present themselves and their policies in a competitive setting to the citizenry. How do people evaluate candidates in presidential debates? The general consensus is that debates matter but only by reinforcing attitudes that the audience holds prior to the debate (Klapper 1960; Kraus 2000; Sears and Whitney 1973). In short, debates are seen as reinforcing rather than changing prior attitudes among the audience (Abramowitz 1978; Benoit and Hansen 2004; Holbert 2005; Sigelman and Sigelman 1984). Despite the valuable information gleaned from these studies, a significant and consequential question has largely been ignored: who is most likely to be affected by debates and engage in attitude reinforcement? This is a critical question because studies to date assume that, other than partisan differences, effects are uniform across partisans; yet I argue and show this is not the case. The heterogeneity in reinforcement effects has critical normative implications for the study of political communication and public opinion formation.

The purpose of this article is to achieve a more direct and nuanced understanding of how the citizenry evaluate presidential debates. This is achieved through two strategies. First, by employing motivated reasoning theory, I am able to predict which individuals are most likely to demonstrate the reinforcement effects, namely, the most politically interested individuals. Second, unlike prior work, I overcome major methodological limitations, as I will discuss, by using a more ideal data set to explore debate effects. Specifically, I explore effects among nationally representative panel data from the first presidential debate in 2008.

Debate Evaluations

Much research is dedicated to unraveling the sources of presidential vote choices. Studies isolate the importance of social forces and partisan attachments (Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee 1954; Campbell et al. 1960). Other work emphasizes economic conditions (Markus 1988), candidate character and attributes (Glass 1985; Bishin, Stevens, and Wilson 2006), and issue positions (Goren 1997). While there is contention surrounding the sources of vote choice, there is a consensus that presidential campaigns have become more mediated and reliant upon media interpretations (Bucy and Graber 2007; Hallin 1994). One key exception is presidential campaign debates. The debates provide an opportunity for candidates to directly present themselves at length in a competitive context to the voting public. This prompts the question: how do debates impact evaluations of the candidates?

Research on campaign debates is substantial. (1) Much of the research examines how debates affect and influence evaluations of candidates. These studies focus on how the public processes the debate information and alter their perceptions and attitudes toward the candidates. This research suggests that the viewing public selectively attends to the information presented in the debates and reinforces prior attitudes and opinions (Hillygus and Jackman 2003; Kraus 1962, 2000; Sears and Whitney 1973; Wall, Golden, and James 1988). Several scholars assert that debates are more likely to strengthen existing preferences and reinforce predispositions than alter preferences (Benoit and Hansen 2004; Sigelman and Sigelman 1984). Other work examines selective perception and finds that presidential debates can persuade voters to adopt the positions taken by their preferred candidate (Abramowitz 1978). Notably absent from these studies is an analysis of who is most likely to reinforce their attitudes. The aforementioned debate studies often treat prior attitudes as isolated independent variables that drive evaluations. In doing so, the studies assume that individuals belonging to a category are homogenous, which ignores the possibility that the influence of prior attitudes may be conditioned by individual characteristics. (2)

Methodological Limitations

The extant debate literature is not only limited by often ignoring moderating individual effects, but it also faces data constraints. The studies attempt to disentangle the mechanisms through which people process the debate information, but most are plagued by methodological and data limitations that inhibit direct evidence of the reinforcement effects. Several studies employ cross-sectional data that measure prior attitudes at the same time as debate evaluations (Benoit and Hansen 2004; Sigelman and Sigelman 1984). Other studies are restricted to highly limited samples (Abramowitz 1978). Arguing that debate viewing acts as partisan reinforcement, Holbert (2005) employs panel data to determine whether debate viewing impacts vote choice. However, the post-debate assessment is not taken until after the election (a month after the debate aired), and it only concentrates on vote choice. Thus, there are few tests of the direct and immediate effects of the debate on candidate evaluations and perceptions. Lanoue (1992) also uses panel data, but the debate analyzed occurred only one week prior to the election. Thus, it is likely that the viewing public had already been exposed to the candidates and their positions for an extended time period before watching the debate, making the prior attitudes difficult to assess.

Although most research on debates suggests that the citizenry tends to selectively perceive debates and reinforce previously held opinions, direct evidence is sparse. The causal inferences of previous studies are constrained by data and methodology. More importantly, each of the studies is limited in its theoretical precision concerning who is most likely to be affected by the debates. It is this last point that I turn to in the next section.

Theoretical Background

Ideas of reinforcement and selective attention have long been noted in analyses of mass communication and debates (Kraus 1962; Sears and Whitney 1973). Much of the explanatory foundation of previous work on debate evaluations is rooted in a psychological theory of cognitive consistency (Abelson et al. 1968; Abramowitz 1978; Lanoue 1992; Sigelman and Sigelman 1984). In discussing this theory, Abramowitz (1978, 681) states, "there is a strain toward consistency among attitudes. Inconsistency tends 2 to produce psychological discomfort; therefore, inconsistent attitudes tend to be unstable." Scholars use cognitive consistency to explain why presidential debates reinforce existing predispositions rather than substantially change opinions. Sigelman and Sigelman (1984, 627) assert that, "[i]n any event, it is clear that the public does not approach presidential debates cognitively unencumbered and determined to weigh the evidence even-handedly." While cognitive consistency theory has produced fruitful insights into how people evaluate debates, it provides little theoretical precision. More specifically, it fails to adequately explain who is most likely to engage in attitude reinforcement.

In recent years, an abundance of evidence has bolstered support for a theory of motivated reasoning (Druckman and Bolsen 2011; Kim, Taber, and Lodge 2010; Kunda 1990; Lodge and Taber 2013; Lord, Ross, and Lepper 1979; Redlawsk, Civettini, and Emmerson 2010; Slothuus and de Vreese 2010; Taber and Lodge 2006; Taber, Cann, and Kucsova 2009). In many respects, motivated reasoning is an extension of research on reinforcement effects, selective exposure, and cognitive consistency and dissonance theory (Festinger 1957; Heider 1946; Kunda 1990). However, motivated reasoning offers novel insights and allows for more explanatory and predictive precision by disentangling the mechanisms through which people process information. Lodge and Taber (2005) discuss motivated reasoning and suggest that individuals develop affect, attitudes, and motivations concerning various topics over time, and these motivations influence how people process new information. That is, the theory asserts that an individual's prior attitudes toward people, groups, and issues will bias how he or she processes new information concerning those topics. While prior attitudes can be manifest in different forms, in its political applications, these prior attitudes and motivations often come in the form of partisan attachments and goals (Druckman. Peterson, and Slothuus 2013; Gaines et al. 2007; Groenendyk 2013; Lavine and Steenbergen 2012; Slothuus and de Vreese 2010; Taber and Lodge 2006). Partisan motivated reasoning provides a theoretical foundation for what Campbell et al. (1960, 130) refer to as a partisan "perceptual screen" "though which the individual tends to see what is favorable to his partisan orientation."

Motivated reasoning prompts several hypotheses (Lodge and Taber 2013; Taber and Lodge 2006). First, there is expected to be a prior attitude effect where individuals view evidence congruent with prior attitudes (or information that buttresses their partisan attachment) as more compelling. The theory suggests that this occurs through a confirmation and disconfirmation bias. That is, individuals will seek out confirming arguments and counterargue incongruent information, which results in a reinforcement of prior attitudes. In turn, these effects tend to result in polarization and more extreme attitudes.

Finally, the theory asserts that the reinforcement effects are heightened for the most politically sophisticated individuals and those with the strongest priors. Because of their high levels of political knowledge, politically sophisticated and interested individuals are better able to counterargue information inconsistent with their priors (Taber and Lodge 2006). That is, their knowledge, experience, and familiarity with issues and candidates aid them in their selective processing of information. While political sophistication often comprises multiple dimensions (Luskin 1987), one key factor is political interest (Luskin 1990). (3) Interest in politics has often been described as an "internal motivation" and is shown to be "by far the most influential variable" for political sophistication (Luskin 1990, 348). Also, the motivated reasoning literature emphasizes the important moderating effect of attitude strength, and interest is a strong correlate of attitude strength (Visser, Bizer, and Krosnick 2006). Individuals with higher levels of political interest likely have more knowledge and stronger attitudes--making them both better able and more likely to counterargue information inconsistent with their views and ultimately buttress and reinforce their prior attitudes.

Taken together, motivated reasoning provides an explanation for how individuals will process debate information. All political concepts are affect laden, and this affect is triggered automatically upon exposure to a concept. The affect (or partisan attachments) influences how people evaluate incoming information, which leads to a reinforcement effect and a polarization of attitudes. People who are more politically sophisticated and interested are better able to counterargue inconsistent information and selectively filter arguments in a manner that accentuates reinforcement of priors. Thus, motivated reasoning provides an excellent opportunity to understand how people process information and evaluate candidates in presidential debates.

H1: Prior attitude effect (reinforcement): Individuals with prior attitudes (partisans) will become more positive in their evaluations of a candidate with congruent attitudes (a candidate of the same party) after viewing the debate. Conversely, they will become more negative toward a candidate with incongruent attitudes (a candidate from an opposing party) after viewing the debate. (4)

H2: Heightened effects for interest: Reinforcement effects in candidate evaluations will be greater for individuals with prior attitudes and high levels of political interest.

Research Design and Data

To test these hypotheses, I use Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News panel surveys from the first presidential debate in 2008. (5) The predebate survey was conducted between September 19 and 22, 2008, and the postdebate survey was conducted between September 26 and 28, 2008. The random-digit dial dual-frame sample includes landline and cell phones with listed and unlisted phone numbers for the entire nation. The predebate sample comprises 1,428 men and women 18 years of age or older. This includes 1,287 registered voters and 838 likely voters. The postdebate survey includes a total of 701 individuals, with 448 individuals who watched the debate. This study limits the sample to the individuals who were interviewed prior to the debate and also reported watching the debate in the postdebate survey. (6) By using panel data, this analysis overcomes many of the data limitations of previous studies. First, it allows for a direct analysis of opinion changes after viewing the debate. Prior attitudes and preferences can be measured before the debate rather than at the same time as postdebate evaluations. Second, it allows for a postdebate assessment immediately following the debate rather than after a lengthy time interval that could include confounding exogenous factors. It should be noted that, even though the collection of postdebate evaluations begins the night of the debate, it does not entirely rule out the possibility of the postdebate news analysis to have a role in shaping evaluations (Hwang et al. 2007).

The debate between Barack Obama and John McCain took place on September 26, 2008. Moderator Jim Lehrer highlighted the focus of the debate in his opening statement when he said that the debate "will primarily be about foreign policy and national security." Receiving the bulk of attention, roughly 47% of the debate concerned international crises including Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Russia. (7) The first presidential debate in 2008 is an ideal case and strong test. There was no incumbent in the race, and the debate took place in the early stages of the general election. For these reasons, the viewing public is likely to possess less information and weaker feelings toward the candidates at the time of the survey. This is a strong test because if motivations and affect toward the candidates bias the processing of the debate, they are probably less likely to do so when motivations are weaker in this early stage with lesser-known candidates. Also, there is substantive importance attributed to the first debate. For many Americans, it was one of the first opportunities to not only learn about the candidates, but to compare and evaluate them side by side.

Variable Selection

To measure individuals' responses to the debate, each of the hypotheses will be tested with four different dependent variables. Where prior debate research often only focused on postdebate evaluations, the panel data used here allow for modeling the change that occurs in candidate evaluations before and after the debate. The first and second dependent variables concern the change in affect and feeling toward each candidate that occurs after viewing the debate. Individuals were asked, "Do you have a positive or negative feeling about Barack Obama? [If yes then] Is it very or only somewhat [positive/negative]?" Thus, scores range from very positive (scored 1) to very negative (scored 5). The same question was asked after the debate. To measure each individual's change, the postdebate affect was subtracted from the predebate affect. This resulted in a scale from 4 to 4. Negative scores indicate that the individual had less positive feelings toward Obama after the debate than before, and a positive score reflects more positive feelings after the debate. A zero denotes an individual who had no change. The process was repeated for evaluations of John McCain.

The third and fourth dependent variables concern confidence about each candidate's ability to "deal wisely with an international crisis," which was salient during this particular debate, as mentioned. The variables are constructed similarly to the first two dependent variables, using difference scores to assess opinion shifts between pre- and postdebate surveys. Negative scores signify less confidence after watching the debate, and positive scores report more confidence.

To address the prior attitudes hypothesis (H1), an independent variable of party identification is included. Conceptualization of party identification as a prior attitude, underlying motivation, and affective attachment is consistent with other research on partisan-motivated reasoning (Druckman et al. 2013; Gaines et al. 2007; Lavine and Steenbergen 2012; Taber and Lodge 2006). Individuals reporting independent but leaning toward one party are not categorized as partisans. (8) In the initial models, Democrats are coded as 1, Republicans are 0, and Independents are excluded. Independents are excluded because they do not possess these partisan motivations (see Bullock 2011; Cohen 2003; Druckman et al. 2013; for a similar approach). Later, I move beyond this approach to discuss and analyze Independents (See appendix).

To address heightened effects for the politically interested, a variable of political interest is included. The variable measures political interest in this particular presidential campaign. The interest variable ranges from very uninterested to very interested (higher scores denoting higher levels of interest). (9) In the test of H2, partisanship and interest are interacted to gauge the influence of prior attitudes moderated by levels of interest.

As Obama was campaigning to become the first black President of the United States, race was a central issue in 2008. To control for this, a dichotomous variable of black/nonblack is included in the study. Education is also included as a control variable. Although not shown here, models with additional controls for gender and ideology do not alter the substantive interpretations or statistical inferences of the variables of interest. Finally, as is appropriate in dealing with panel data, predebate affect/confidence are included as controls in their respective models. (10) Due to the structure of the dependent variables, ordinary least squares (OLS) regression is used to test the hypotheses. (11)

Results

I first examine changes in affect toward Obama. If H1 is supported, individuals with prior attitudes (partisan motivations) should reinforce those attitudes by developing more positive feelings toward the candidate with congruent attitudes. More importantly, H2 will be supported if there is a significant interaction between interest and party identification that reinforces prior attitudes. That is, partisans who are more interested in politics are the most likely to reinforce their affect toward Obama after viewing the debate. In sum, after viewing the debate, Democrats should become more favorable toward Obama and Republicans should become less favorable. These effects should be heightened for the most interested individuals.

Table 1 shows the models for change in affect toward Obama. Positive scores reflect shifts toward more positive feelings toward Obama after the debate. Model 1 is the basic prior attitude test without an interaction. Consistent with H1; Democrats develop significantly more positive feelings toward Obama after viewing the debate ([beta] = .955, p < .000). Thus, bolstering existing research on reinforcement effects and expectations from motivated reasoning, individuals who have an attachment to the Democratic Party become more positive toward Obama after viewing the debate.

Also in Table 1, Models 2 and 3 highlight the results for subsamples of Democrats and Republicans. It is important to note the direction and role of interest in these subsample models. For Democrats, more interested individuals develop more positive affect toward Obama ([beta] = .140, p < .080), but interested Republicans develop more negative feelings ([beta]. = -.227, p < .067). Testing H2, the full model with the interaction between party and interest is seen in Model 4 ([beta] = .338, p<.025). Figure 1 provides a clear illustration of the interaction between party identification and political interest. It shows the expected values for the change in affect for Obama by party at different levels of interest while holding other variables constant. Thus, the table and graphic reveal that not only do Democrats develop positive feelings and Republicans develop negative feelings toward Obama after watching the debate, but these effects are conditioned by levels of political interest. The most interested partisans demonstrate heightened reinforcement effects.

Similar tests are applied to changes in affect toward McCain. Positive scores reflect the development of more positive feelings toward McCain after viewing the debate. The results are given in Table 2. A similar story unfolds. Again, Model 1 shows the basic prior attitude test without an interaction. Democrats develop more negative feelings toward McCain after viewing the debate ([beta] = -.808, p < .000). This lends support to the first hypothesis. Models 2 and 3 show the influence of interest broken down by party. Among Democrats, more interested individuals develop negative feelings toward McCain ([beta] = -.201, p < .097), while interested Republicans become positive (P = .069, p < .248). Although the interest variable for the Republican subsample is not significant, the direction of the changes for interested partisans is consistent with expectations. The full interaction model and test of H2 is seen in Model 4. The reinforcement effects for partisans watching the debate are again heightened for the most interested individuals ([beta] = -.281, p < .074). Figure 2 provides a visual display of the interaction. Again, this is showing the expected values for changes in affect for McCain by party at different levels of interest while holding other variables constant. These results lend support to the prior attitude hypothesis and heightened effects for the most interested.

Next, I turn my analysis to changes in the confidence in the candidates' ability to "deal wisely with an international crisis," the central issue in this particular debate. Following the same format as the previous tests, the variables now reflect changes in confidence in the candidates after viewing the debate. Negative scores report less confidence after watching the debate, and positive scores report more confidence. If the theory and hypotheses are to be supported, Democrats should become more confident in Obama after viewing the debate, and Republicans should become less confident. In Table 3, Model 1 shows the basic test of changes in confidence in Obama to deal wisely with an international crisis. As expected, Democrats become more confident in Obama after the debate ([beta] = .545, p < .000). Model 2 examines Democrats only and shows that interest has a positive effect ([beta] =.158, p < .018). Model 3 only includes Republicans, and it reveals that more interested individuals have less confidence in Obama ([beta] = -.227, p < .004). The full test in Model 4 bolsters these results by showing the interaction between party and interest ([beta] = .390, p < .000). The relationship is displayed in Figure 3. The results provide strong evidence in support of the prior attitude reinforcement and heightened effects for the most interested hypotheses. Interestingly, Figure 3 shows that among the least interested, Republicans develop more confidence in Obama than Democrats. It appears that the least interested individuals are less prone to the reinforcement effects, and at times, they shift their preferences in a direction inconsistent with their partisan attachments. (12)

Next, I apply the same methods of analysis to changes in confidence in McCain's ability to handle international crises. In Table 4, Model 1 shows the basic test without an interaction. Democrats have less confidence in McCain after viewing the debate ([beta] = -.476, p < .000). Examining only Democrats in Model 2, more interested individuals tend to reduce their confidence in McCain ([beta] = -.122, p < .10). Model 3 shows the results for only Republicans and reveals that more interested individuals tend to develop higher levels of confidence ([beta] = .076, p < .149). Although the interest variable in Model 3 is not significant, the results for interest in both Models 2 and 3 are in the direction consistent with the hypotheses. The full test of the interaction between party and interest in Model 4 echoes the findings from the previous tests ([beta] = -.208, p < .047). More interested Democrats become less confident in McCain to handle international crises after viewing the debate, while more interested Republicans become more confident in McCain. These results are consistent with the hypotheses and provide evidence of a prior attitude effect and heightened effects for the most interested citizens. Again, the interaction effect in Figure 4 indicates that the least interested individuals tend to avoid reinforcement effects and shift in a direction inconsistent with their partisan attachment.

Motivated reasoning primarily speaks to the information processing effects for individuals with an underlying motivation. Because motivation and prior attitudes are addressed through party identification in this analysis, Independents were initially excluded. Here, Independents generally lack the affective attachment to a party. Consistent with the extant literature on partisan-motivated reasoning, this study does not directly focus on Independents, yet I briefly address these individuals that often play a significant role in presidential campaigns and elections. Tests including Independents are shown in Table 5 in the Appendix. These models consistently highlight that in contrast to partisans, political interest does not appear to have a consistent role in the change in candidate evaluations for Independents. In only one of the four models does interest reach significance for Independents. Further, in models not shown, partisans are revealed to behave in a manner predictably distinct from Independents. This is all consistent with expectations from partisan motivated reasoning. Individuals with the partisan attachment filter the debate information in a manner distinct from Independents, and the heightened effects for the politically interested appear to only matter for partisans.

Conclusion

The chief purpose of this study is to answer a fundamental question: how does the citizenry evaluate candidates in presidential campaign debates? Previous studies in this domain have made significant progress and often argue that debates serve to reinforce the public's prior opinions of, affect toward, and evaluations of candidates. However, they often ignore an important and consequential question: who is most likely to be affected by the debate and demonstrate reinforcement effects? In this article, I suggest and provide evidence that motivated reasoning presents a propitious opportunity to explore these questions and suggests novel explanations. Further, I attempt to overcome the methodological impediments that have stymied direct evidence of reinforcement effects. By using nationally representative panel data collected immediately before and after the debate, I can assess how an individual's attitudes shift directly in response to watching a presidential campaign debate.

I find strong support for reinforcement and prior attitude effects. This is consistent with motivated reasoning and previous campaign debate literature. In each of the four major tests (Model 1 in Tables (1-4)), one's attachment to a party is a significant predictor of how people will alter their candidate evaluations after viewing the debate. Despite watching the same debate, the citizenry diverges along party lines and develops more positive affect and confidence in their respective candidates. It appears that party identification acts as an attachment that influences how individuals process debate information. This is a finding that is consistent with Campbell et al.'s (1960) description of a partisan-based "perceptual screen." The confirmation and disconfirmation biases supported in the motivated reasoning literature, but not explicitly tested here, provide explanatory mechanisms for the strengthening of attitudes. Individuals likely reinforce prior attitudes through their selective filtering of information in the debate by clinging to congruent arguments and counterarguing incongruent arguments.

Perhaps more importantly, this article finds strong evidence of heightened reinforcement effects for the most interested individuals. In all four tests (Model 4 in Tables (1-4)), there is evidence of an important interaction between partisan motivation and the level of political interest. Individuals at the highest levels of political interest demonstrate more pronounced reinforcement effects. Also, in each of the partisan subsamples (Models 2 and 3 in Tables (1--4)), the interest variable moves in the hypothesized direction. The conditional effect of interest for partisan reinforcement effects is an intriguing finding that previous debate studies have failed to address. Although the debate itself is the primary force driving these results, because the collection of postdebate evaluations begins the night of the debate, it is possible that the partisan reinforcement and heightened effects for the politically interested are also, in part, a function of postdebate news analysis (Hwang et al. 2007).

It should be noted that tests controlling for Independents, individuals without the partisan attachment, further buttress support for the hypotheses. In contrast to the results presented above, Table 5 in the Appendix demonstrates that the conditional effect of interest does not appear to matter for Independents in the same manner that it does for partisans.

Table 6 in the Appendix shows supplemental tests on panel data from the first presidential debate between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in 1996. The dependent variable of interest is the change in Clinton's job approval after viewing the debate. Bolstering the findings from the 2008 data, there is strong support for the prior attitude hypothesis where Democrats become more approving. Also consistent with expectations, more interested Republicans become significantly less approving. Additionally, there is strong evidence of an interaction effect between party identification and interest for Clinton's job approval. Taken together, these results illustrate that prior attitudes lead to reinforcement effects, and there are heightened effects for the most interested individuals.

This analysis suggests that the manner in which the citizenry evaluate presidential debates is more nuanced than previously thought. The article not only presents direct evidence of a partisan "perceptual screen," but it shows that reinforcement effects are larger for more interested individuals. The findings have important empirical and normative implications. It appears that the most politically interested and engaged individuals are more likely to selectively process the debate, using the debate to simply reinforce previously held attitudes. This is troubling because it is the most interested citizens who have the highest political media consumption and are often the most likely to watch the debate in the first place (Baum and Kernell 1999). It is also well documented that political interest is a consistent and significant predictor of political participation and voter turnout (Brady, Verba, and Schlozman 1995; Powell 1986). A number of important normative criteria have been outlined for evaluating the quality of public opinion, including rationality (Page and Shapiro 1992); levels of political knowledge (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996; Lippmann 1922; Mill 1859); and strong, stable, and constrained attitudes (Converse 1964, 2000). Inextricably linked to these criteria--both normatively and empirically--is one's interest in political happenings. It may be that our most politically interested and "ideal" citizens are the least likely to openly weigh the debate information in an objective manner.

Appendix

TABLE 5

Change in Affect and Confidence (Independents Only)

Variable                   Obama Affect          McCain Affect

Preaffect/Confidence       .334 *** (.074)        .157 *** (.059)
Black                      .416 (.584)           -.156 (.451)
Education                  .068 (.099)           -.082 (.077)
Interest                   .094 (.199)            .031 (.153)
Constant                 -1.104 (.694)           -.198 (.498)
Adj. [R.sup.2]                 .151                   .045
Res. SE                       1.126                   .872
N                               94                     94

Variable                 Obama Confidence      McCain Confidence

Preaffect/Confidence      .230 *** (.078)        .255 *** (.072)
Black                    -.142 (.283)           -.028 (.268)
Education                -.019 (.049)           -.012 (.045)
Interest                  .062 (.099)           -.293 *** (.091)
Constant                 -.382 (.377)            .372 (.321)
Adj. [R.sup.2]                 .060                   .201
Res. SE                        .548                   .513
N                               90                     92

Note: Entries are OLS coefficients with standard errors in
parentheses. Each model is restricted to Independents only.
Positive scores denote becoming more positive, and negative
scores reflect becoming more negative. One-tailed tests.
Significance codes *** p < .01, ** p < .05, * p < .10.
Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. "Los Angeles
Times-Bloomberg News Poll #2008-560-561: National Pre and
Post Debate Panel Callback Survey." Field dates: September
19-22 and 26-28, 2008.

TABLE 6

Change in Clinton Job Approval

                                                  Model 2
Variable                   Model 1               Democrats

Predebate Approval       .366 *** (.030)         .404 *** (.034)
Black                   -.105 (.102)            -.129 ** (.077)
Education                .002 (.028)            -.001 (.027)
Democrat                 .744 *** (.103)               --
Interest               -1.22 *** (.046)         -.011 (.050)
Party * Interest              --                     --
Constant                -.808 *** (.222)        -.374 ** (.185)
Adj. [R.sup.2]               .208                   .319
Res. SE                      .784                   .563
N                            593                    306

                           Model 3                Model 4
Variable                 Republicans            Interaction

Predebate Approval      .350 *** (.049)         374 *** (.030)
Black                   .221 (.402)           -.094 (.102)
Education               .009 (.051)            .004 (.028)
Democrat                      --               .281 (.243)
Interest               -.213 *** (.078)       -.211 *** (.063)
Party * Interest              --               .197 ** (.094)
Constant               -.861 ** (.472)        -.641 *** (.235)
Adj. [R.sup.2]               .151                   .213
Res. SE                      .964                   .782
N                            287                    593

Note: Entries are OLS coefficients with standard errors in
parentheses. Model 1 is the basic regression without an
interaction. Model 2 includes only Democrats. Model 3
includes only Republicans. Model 4 is the full interaction
model. One-tailed tests. Significance codes *** p < .01, **
p < .05, * p < .10. Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion
Research. "Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg News Poll #2008-560-
561: National Pre and Post Debate Panel Callback Survey."
Field dates: September 19-22 and 26-28, 2008.


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KEVIN J. MULLINIX

Appalachian State University

(1.) While the focus of this article is on the impact of debates on candidate evaluations, other studies examine a variety of debate effects, including the influence of debates on voting and turnout (Gallup 1987); the effects of rhetoric and strategy (Campbell and Jamieson 2008; Lanoue and Schrott 1989); the effects of the media's instant analysis and postdebate news analysis (Fridkin et al. 2007; Hwang et al. 2007); and the ability of campaign debates to foster learning and political knowledge (Benoit and Hansen 2004; Holbrook 1999; Lemert 1993; Miller and Mackuen 1979; Wald and Lupfer 1978). Debates have been assessed from a number of other angles including the role predebate negotiations (Self 2005, 2007).

(2.) Lanoue (1992), however, suggests that debate evaluations are moderated by an intervening variable: political knowledge. Interestingly, he finds that voters in the lower-middle knowledge category are the most likely to shift preferences and be influenced by the debate. While Lanoue accounts for individual characteristics, he finds little evidence of the reinforcement effects that so many other studies document. He does caution that "one should be careful not to make too much of the overall lack of reinforcement effects in the present case" (Lanoue 1992, 182).

(3.) Political knowledge is also a common measure used to address sophistication--unfortunately, the data do not provide such a measure. While political interest is not an all-inclusive measure of political sophistication, it is consistently employed as an element of the multidimensional concept (Guo and Moy 1998; Lodge and Hamill 1986; Luskin 1990; McGraw, Lodge, and Stroh 1990). Interest is shown to be correlated with political knowledge and is part of a motivational component that "yielded the largest direct path coefficient to political knowledge" (Delli Carpini, and Keeter 1996, 184). See Zaller (1990) for a discussion of how political interest relates to awareness, sophistication, and information.

(4.) Thus, one would be likely to view the candidate from their "in-party" more favorably and the candidate from the "out-party" more negatively. While I do not directly analyze it here, I recognize that some have argued that out-party cues may have larger effects (Nicholson 2012).

(5.) Later in the article and in the appendix, I present and discuss results from a similar analysis I conducted on debate data from a 1996 Clinton-Dole debate. However, focusing on a single debate and campaign is not uncommon (Druckman 2003; Hillygus and Jackman 2003).

(6.) Unfortunately, the postdebate survey only asked the candidate evaluation questions of debate viewers. Thus, postdebate opinion comparisons between debate watchers and nonwatchers is not possible.

(7.) This number comes from a simple tallying of the number of candidate responses to questions by the moderator and each other. The second most discussed issue surrounded the financial crisis (33%). The remaining percentages were divided between energy and health and social welfare issues.

(8.) Although not shown, if leaners are treated as partisans, the substantive interpretations (direction) and statistical inferences do not change. There are only a small number of leaners in the analysis (in regressions they amounted to 18 leaning Democratic and 15 leaning Republican). Also, party identification was measured on a five-point scale (Republican, leaning Republican, Independent, leaning Democrat, Democrat). This measure inhibits comparisons of strong partisans and partisans that are possible on a seven-point scale. For these reasons, I do not present comparisons of partisan strength.

(9.) Mean level of interest for those that watched the debate was 2.64 and 2.49 for nonwatchers.

(10.) See Joslyn and Cigler (2001) for a similar approach to panel data.

(11.) It could be argued that ordered probit models are also appropriate. Although not shown, each model is robust to specification as an ordered probit. There is no difference in direction or statistical significance between the models.

(12.) This finding is somewhat consistent with Lanoue's (1992) discussion of individuals with lower levels of knowledge having movable preferences.

Kevin J. Mullinix is an assistant professor in political science at Appalachian State University His research concentrates on public opinion and political behavior. He has recently published in the Policy Studies Journal, Economic Development Quarterly, and the Oxford Handbook of Legislative Studies.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The data used in this article were made available through Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.

I thank Mark R. Joslyn, James N. Druckman, Benjamin 1. Page, Thomas J. Leeper, Michael S. Lynch, and Donald P. Haider-Markel for their helpful feedback and comments on this article.

TABLE 1

Change in Affect Toward Obama

                                                    Model 2
Variable                     Model 1               Democrats

Predebate Obama           .377 *** (.043)         302 *** (.048)
  Affect
Black                     .217 * (.164)          .165 (.136)
Education                 .088 ** (.038)         .056 * (.040)
Democrat                  .955 *** (.152)               -
Interest                 -.015 (.086)            .140 * (.099)
Party * Interest                --                     --
Constant                -1.741 *** (.342)       -.993 ** (.332)
Adj. [R.sup.2]                 .214                   .186
Res. SE                        .706                   .583
N                              270                    165

                             Model 3                Model 4
Variable                   Republicans            Interaction

Predebate Obama            .496 *** (.080)        .387 *** (.043)
  Affect
Black                           --                .208 * (.163)
Education                  .122 * (.078)          .089 *** (.038)
Democrat                        --                .043 (.487)
Interest                  -.227 * (.150)         -.189 * (.123)
Party * Interest                --                .338 ** (.171)
Constant                -1.775 *** (.573)       -1.302 *** (.407)
Adj. [R.sup.2]                 .262                   .223
Res. SE                        .849                   .702
N                              105                    270

Note: Entries are OLS coefficients with standard errors in
parentheses. Model 1 is the basic regression without an
interaction. Model 2 includes only Democrats. Model 3
includes only Republicans and the race variable is excluded
due to collinearity. Model 4 is the full interaction model.
One-tailed tests. Significance codes *** p < .01,
** p < .05, * p < .10. Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion
Research. "Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg News Poll #2008-560-561:
National Pre and Post Debate Panel Callback Survey."
Field dates: September 19-22 and 26-28, 2008.

TABLE 2

Change in Affect Toward McCain

Variable                 Model 1                Model 2
                                               Democrats

Predebate McCain      .356 *** (.050)        .368 *** (.063)
  Affect
Black                -.369 ** (.185)        -.353 ** (.213)
Education            -.006 (.042)            .001 (.060)
Democrat             -.808 *** (.165)              --
Interest             -.062 (.097)           -.207 * (.159)
Party * Interest            --                     --
Constant             -.392 (.321)           -.864 * (.537)
Adj. [R.sup.2]             .167                   .187
Res. SE                    .802                   .918
N                          273                    162

Variable                 Model 3                Model 4
                       Republicans            Interaction

Predebate McCain     .331 *** (.089)        .361 *** (.050)
  Affect
Black                       --              -.357 ** (.185)
Education              -.011 (.053)           -.004 (.042)
Democrat                    --                -.038 (.555)
Interest               .069 (.101)            .075 (.135)
Party * Interest            --               -.281 * (.193)
Constant             -.706 ** (.373)        -.787 ** (.420)
Adj. [R.sup.2]             .090                   .171
Res. SE                    .597                   .800
N                          111                    273

Note: Entries are OLS coefficients with standard errors in
parentheses. Model 1 is the basic regression without an
interaction. Model 2 includes only Democrats. Model 3
includes only Republicans and the race variable is excluded
due to collinearity. Model 4 is the full interaction model.
One-tailed tests. Significance codes *** p < .01, ** p <
.05, * p < .10. Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion
Research. "Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg News Poll #2008-560-
561: National Pre and Post Debate Panel Callback Survey."
Field dates: September 19-22 and 26-28, 2008.

TABLE 3

Changes in Confidence in Obama to Handle International Crises

                                                    Model 2
Variable                     Model 1               Democrats

Predebate Obama          .469 *** (-054)         .473 *** (.062)
Confidence
Black                    .022 (.107)             .007 (.100)
Education                .027 (.025)             .027 (.028)
Democrat                 .545 *** (.093)               --
Interest                -.032 (.056)             .158 ** (.074)
Party * Interest                --                     --
Constant                -1.160 *** (.251)      -1.151 *** (.267)
Adj. [R.sup.2]                 .220                   .255
Res. SE                        .460                   .427
N                               270                    164

                             Model 3                Model 4
Variable                   Republicans            Interaction

Predebate Obama           .546 *** (.101)        .497 *** (.054)
Confidence
Black                           --               .014 (.105)
Education                 .023 (.044)            .025 (.024)
Democrat                        --              -.499 * (.307)
Interest                 -.227 *** (.083)       -.225 *** (.077)
Party * Interest                --               .390 *** (.109)
Constant                 -.818 ** (.403)        -.698 *** (.278)
Adj. [R.sup.2]                 .236                   .254
Res. SE                        .487                   .450
N                              106                    270

Note: Entries are OLS coefficients with standard errors in
parentheses. Model 1 is the basic regression without an
interaction. Model 2 includes only Democrats. Model 3
includes only Republicans and the race variable is excluded
due to collinearity. Model 4 is the full interaction model.
One-tailed tests. Significance codes *** p < .01, ** p< .05,
* p < .10. Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.
"Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg News Poll #2008-560-561:
National Pre and Post Debate Panel Callback Survey." Field
dates: September 19-22 and 26-28, 2008.

TABLE 4

Change in Confidence in McCain to Handle International Crises

Variable                     Model 1           Model 2 Democrats

Predebate McCain          .465 *** (.052)        .486 *** (.063)
Confidence
Black                    -.107 (.118)           -.093 (.129)
Education                 .010 (.027)            .040 (.036)
Democrat                 -.476 *** (.089)              --
Interest                 -.010 (.061)           -.122 * (.097)
Party * Interest                --                     --
Constant                 -.622 *** (.206)       -.932 *** (.316)
Adj. [R.sup.2]                 .221                   .269
Res. SE                        .504                   .546
N                              269                    160

Variable               Model 3 Republicans    Model 4 Interaction

Predebate McCain          .417 *** (.109)        .475 *** (.052)
Confidence
Black                           --              -.102 (.118)
Education                -.039 (.038)            .012 (.027)
Democrat                        --               .091 (.348)
Interest                  .076 (.073)            .088 (.085)
Party * Interest                --              -.208 ** (.123)
Constant                 -.643 ** (.289)        -.913 *** (.268)
Adj. [R.sup.2]                 .109                   .227
Res. SE                        .429                   .503
N                              109                    269

Note: Entries are OLS coefficients with standard errors in
parentheses. Model 1 is the basic regression without an
interaction. Model 2 includes only Democrats. Model 3
includes only Republicans and the race variable is excluded
due to collinearity. Model 4 is the full interaction model.
One-tailed tests. Significance codes *** p < .01, ** p <
.05, * p < .10. Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion
Research. "Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg News Poll #2008-560-
561: National Pre and Post Debate Panel Callback Survey."
Field dates: September 19-22 and 26-28, 2008.
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Publication:Presidential Studies Quarterly
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Date:Jun 1, 2015
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