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Who Leads Whom? Presidents, Policy, and the Public.

Who Leads Whom? Presidents, Policy, and the Public. By Brandice Canes-Wrone. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. 214 pp.

Leadership of the public and Congress is of vital importance to modern presidential governance. In Who Leads Whom?, Brandice Canes-Wrone tackles this important topic in a thorough study of the prospects for presidential leadership, the impact the public has on the president's propensity to appeal, and the influence that such leadership has on public policy in general and the president's legislative success in particular. She examines these issues using an array of methodological tools, from formal modeling (Chapter 2) to quantitative testing (Chapters 3 and 4) and case studies (Chapter 6). Organizationally, she develops and then tests a public appeals theory in Part I for both domestic (Chapter 3) and foreign policies (Chapter 4). Part II centers on her conditioning pandering theory, which explores the relative degree of policy pandering or policy leadership present in presidential public appeals.

Who Leads Whom? is grounded in a clear theoretical framework that draws on the breadth of American political thought. Indeed, the fundamental question that Canes-Wrone raises is one that provoked substantial debate among the Framers of the Constitution: should presidents consider the policy views of the "masses," and will this consideration lead to public policy that ultimately is not in the public's best interest? In her terms, this is a debate between policy pandering--"whether presidents follow public opinion when they believe citizens are misinformed about their interests" (p. 104)--and policy leadership, which occurs when presidents pursue policy that promotes societal welfare even when it is unpopular (p. 105).

At base, the argument of Who Leads Whom? centers on presidents' rational incentive to consider current public opinion in their strategic decisions to make public-policy appeals and how this translates into presidential success in Congress. Canes-Wrone shows that the public influences the president's propensity to make public appeals. Presidents engage in "limited pandering": presidents who are up for reelection and have but average approval ratings are most likely to be responsive to public concerns. Next, presidential appeals for both domestic and foreign policies increase the president's success in Congress, contingent upon the dynamics of public support influencing presidential appeals in the first place. That is, presidential appeals increase the president's legislative success in part because the president appeals on policies that are already supported by current public opinion. Taken together, the president's public appeals further the will of the majority in a democracy through the adoption of legislation, without promoting the deleterious effects of demagoguery on societal welfare. Indeed, Canes-Wrone argues convincingly that limited pandering does not result in bad public policy, because presidents still only tend to publicize those popular policies that they believe will improve societal welfare.

Two criticisms of the book center on the dependent variables--funding for agencies or specific policy areas in appropriations bills--and the limited sample of policies used in the analysis. Focusing on shifts in appropriations without consideration of the bargaining and logrolling that will take place throughout the legislative process may overstate the importance of public speeches to the president's legislative success, especially when those public appeals may take place many months before the final appropriation. Further, as we know that policy differences produce distinct and divergent political outcomes, this study cannot tell us for certain whether presidential appeals work on policy changes that may not hinge on spending increases or decreases. The findings on foreign policy ameliorate this concern, but extending the analysis to a broader range of public policies is still a useful next step for future research.

A broader contribution of Who Leads Whom? is that it reaffirms the theoretical limitations of the prevailing wisdom about presidential leadership. The classic "going public" model holds that presidents will speak to encourage the public not only to support their policies but also to motivate the public to influence Congress to support the president. By demonstrating that presidents take advantage of current public support to maximize their chances for increasing legislative success through public appeals--rather than arguing that presidents must use the bully pulpit to motivate an uninterested American populace to support their policies--Canes-Wrone further distances the presidential leadership literature from the classical model of presidential dominance to one of presidential leader as facilitator (George Edwards, On Deaf Ears, 2003). Although we do not know for sure from her research that the "going public" model is unable to explain presidential leadership of the public and Congress, one significant contribution may be to move scholars beyond the classic conception of leadership to a more strategic one. In so doing, future scholars may better understand the extent and limits of presidential leadership in Congress and of the public.

--Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha

University of North Texas
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Author:Eshbaugh-Soha, Matthew
Publication:Presidential Studies Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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