Does Presidential Rhetoric Matter? 
Priming and Presidential Approval

James N. Druckman*, Justin W. Holmes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

150 Scopus citations


The public's approval of the president plays a critical role in determining the president's power and policy-making success. Scholars and pundits have thus devoted a large amount of attention to explaining the dynamics of presidential approval. Surprisingly, this work has overlooked one of the more important potential forces behind approval—that is, what the president himself says. In this article, we examine the direct impact of presidential rhetoric on approval. We do so by combining a content analysis of the 2002 State of the Union address with both a laboratory experiment and a nationally representative survey. We show that the president can have a substantial effect on his own approval by priming the criteria on which citizens base their approval evaluations. Our results add a new dimension to the study of presidential approval, raise intriguing questions about accountability, and extend work on priming and public opinion by introducing the idea of image priming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)755-778
Number of pages24
JournalPresidential Studies Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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