Presidential prediction : the strategic construction and influence of expectation frames

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2014-08

Authors

Scacco, Joshua Michael

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Abstract

Serving as the national soothsayer for citizens and political elites alike, the President of the United States looks to and predicts the future. When presidents try to gain influence today, they predict tomorrow. Expectations, or future-oriented statements made by the president, are a prominent attribute of presidential communication. This dissertation engages “future talk” by examining how presidents construct expectation frames as well as how the public reacts to presidential discussions about the future. I answer two main questions in this research. First, how often and under what circumstances do presidents construct expectations? Second, how do expectations affect the citizens who encounter them? I employed a multi-methodological approach to analyze the content and effects of expectation frames. First, I content analyzed a sample of State of the Union addresses and signing statements from the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, as well as a sample of tweets from the White House Twitter feed in the Obama administration. The analytic approach captured patterns of expectation emphasis and de-emphasis within a communication as well as accounted for variation across presidential communications due to external political and communicative factors. Second, I conducted a between-subjects experiment to test the effects of expectation frames on individuals. I examined how the type of expectation frame influences perceptions about the future and the president. This research uncovers that presidents strategically construct expectations and can influence how individuals think about the future. Presidents engage in deliberate actions to target the settings where expectations are framed, the agents responsible for the future, and the policies associated with tomorrow. In turn, citizens attend to how presidents frame the future and are influenced as a result of encountering future frames. The results of this dissertation illuminate critical facets of presidential communicative leadership of public opinion as well as elite influence within government. The president’s prominence in American life should force our attention to how the chief executive divines and shapes the future for citizens and intergovernmental agents.

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