Why Do Americans Support Politicians Who Increase Their Economic Insecurity?

Lawrence R. Jacobs, University of Minnesota

In an important new book, Lawrence Jacobs and James N. Druckman show how U.S. presidents have used private polls to deflect voter retribution while promoting public policies mostly beneficial to the affluent. 

In Who Governs? Presidents, Public Opinion, and Manipulation (University of Chicago, 2015), Jacobs and Druckman mined presidential archives and other sources to reveal how presidents engage in policymaking that downplays the views of most citizens in favor of satisfying demands from the affluent and well-connected political insiders. Over the courses of many presidencies, the White House has treated the public as pliable, using private polls to concoct presentations that encourage Americans to focus on attractive presidential personality traits and on presidential initiatives that most people support, even as presidents also push policies skewed toward the privileged.

As the authors relate in an extensive Washington Post interview, their book presents “a somber picture of American democracy as … contorted to favor the already advantaged and political insiders.” The antidote to such presidential manipulation, they maintain, is more vigorous public engagement, intense scrutiny of presidential claims, and new attention to the manipulative activities of presidents and their pollsters.

Lawrence R. Jacobs is the Walter F. and Joan Mondale Professor of Political Studies and Director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics – one of the leading university-based organizations focused on politics and public policy in Minnesota and the upper Midwest. He is also Director of SSN’s Minneapolis-St. Paul Regional Network and a member of the national SSN Steering Committee. His research focuses on American politics, health policy, and the Federal Reserve Board.

James M. Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, where he studies political psychology, public opinion, and methods for experimental research.

On Tuesday, October 20, Jacobs and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs are hosting a day-long celebration honoring the life and achievements of Walter F. Mondale. The day’s events will be live-streamed for the public.

October 2015