Predicting the Presidency: The Potential of Persuasive Leadership

Princeton University Press
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Millions of Americans—including many experienced politicians—viewed Barack Obama through a prism of high expectations, based on a belief in the power of presidential persuasion. Yet many who were inspired by candidate Obama were disappointed in what he was able to accomplish once in the White House. They could not understand why he often was unable to leverage his position and political skills to move the public and Congress to support his initiatives. Predicting the Presidency explains why Obama had such difficulty bringing about the change he promised, and challenges the conventional wisdom about presidential leadership.

In this incisive book, George Edwards shows how we can ask a few fundamental questions about the context of a presidency—the president's strategic position or opportunity structure—and use the answers to predict a president's success in winning support for his initiatives. If presidential success is largely determined by a president's strategic position, what role does persuasion play? Almost every president finds that a significant segment of the public and his fellow partisans in Congress are predisposed to follow his lead. Others may support the White House out of self-interest. Edwards explores the possibilities of the president exploiting such support, providing a more realistic view of the potential of presidential persuasion.

Written by a leading presidential scholar, Predicting the Presidency sheds new light on the limitations and opportunities of presidential leadership.

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About the author

George C. Edwards III is University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and the Jordan Chair in Presidential Studies at Texas A&M University. His many books include Overreach: Leadership in the Obama Presidency and The Strategic President: Persuasion and Opportunity in Presidential Leadership (both Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Mar 22, 2016
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9781400880980
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / Executive Branch
Political Science / General
Political Science / Political Process / General
Political Science / Political Process / Leadership
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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When Barack Obama became president, many Americans embraced him as a transformational leader who would fundamentally change the politics and policy of the country. Yet, two years into his administration, the public resisted his calls for support and Congress was deadlocked over many of his major policy proposals. How could this capable new president have difficulty attaining his goals? Did he lack tactical skills?

In Overreach, respected presidential scholar George Edwards argues that the problem was strategic, not tactical. He finds that in President Obama's first two years in office, Obama governed on the premise that he could create opportunities for change by persuading the public and some congressional Republicans to support his major initiatives. As a result, he proposed a large, expensive, and polarizing agenda in the middle of a severe economic crisis. The president's proposals alienated many Americans and led to a severe electoral defeat for the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, undermining his ability to govern in the remainder of his term.


Edwards shows that the president's frustrations were predictable and the inevitable result of misunderstanding the nature of presidential power. The author demonstrates that the essence of successful presidential leadership is recognizing and exploiting existing opportunities, not in creating them through persuasion. When Obama succeeded in passing important policies, it was by mobilizing Democrats who were already predisposed to back him. Thus, to avoid overreaching, presidents should be alert to the limitations of their power to persuade and rigorously assess the possibilities for obtaining public and congressional support in their environments.

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How do presidents lead? If presidential power is the power to persuade, why is there a lack of evidence of presidential persuasion? George Edwards, one of the leading scholars of the American presidency, skillfully uses this contradiction as a springboard to examine--and ultimately challenge--the dominant paradigm of presidential leadership. The Strategic President contends that presidents cannot create opportunities for change by persuading others to support their policies. Instead, successful presidents facilitate change by recognizing opportunities and fashioning strategies and tactics to exploit them.

Edwards considers three extraordinary presidents--Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan--and shows that despite their considerable rhetorical skills, the public was unresponsive to their appeals for support. To achieve change, these leaders capitalized on existing public opinion. Edwards then explores the prospects for other presidents to do the same to advance their policies. Turning to Congress, he focuses first on the productive legislative periods of FDR, Lyndon Johnson, and Reagan, and finds that these presidents recognized especially favorable conditions for passing their agendas and effectively exploited these circumstances while they lasted. Edwards looks at presidents governing in less auspicious circumstances, and reveals that whatever successes these presidents enjoyed also resulted from the interplay of conditions and the presidents' skills at understanding and exploiting them.



The Strategic President revises the common assumptions of presidential scholarship and presents significant lessons for presidents' basic strategies of governance.

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