When the President Speaks, How Do the People Respond?
Tulis’s critique of popular presidential leadership raises several questions about public opinion: Do modern, rhetorically inclined presidents influence the public? What types of presidential rhetoric might, in principle, mislead or manipulate the public? And is the net result that the people are led into error and distortion in their policy opinions? The public-opinion literature, which has assiduously documented the public’s ignorance about politics and policy, might seem, at first glance, to offer grounds for an unequivocal “yes” to the third question. But most scholars of public opinion discount public ignorance and defend an optimistic view of the citizenry’s political competence. The more convincing arguments and evidence, however, support more critical views. There is ample reason to worry about the consequences of policy making driven by popular rhetoric, and thus to consider whether any remedies for plebiscitary democracy might be found.