Presidential Agenda-Setting on the Economy during the “Great Recession”

Jeffrey S. Peake


Presidents are often identified as the most significant agenda-setter in the policy making process. However, agenda-setting theory indicates significant limitations to presidential leadership, particularly under certain policy contexts. In order to assess the presidency’s capacity to lead the systemic agenda in the context of an economic downturn, I analyze President Obama’s public relations efforts on the economy from January 2009 through May 2012. Specifically, I track the amount of attention given the economy in Obama’s public speeches and remarks and assess the degree to which they impacted or responded to media coverage of the economy and public concern for and confidence in the economy at both a weekly and monthly level. The findings suggest that the president’s attention to the economy was largely responsive to shifts in media attention and public opinion on the economy. This was especially the case with regard to the president’s attention to jobs and unemployment. However, Obama’s public leadership efforts on the topics of debt and spending directly impacted media coverage and indirectly affected public opinion on the economy.

Full Text:



Baum, Matthew A. 2003. Soft News Goes to War: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy in the New Media Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Baum, Matthew A., and Samuel Kernell. 1999. “Has Cable Ended the Golden Age of Presidential Television?” American Political Science Review 93: 99-114.

Baum, Matthew A., and Tim J. Groeling. 2010. War Stories: The Causes and Consequences of Public Views of War. Princeton University Press.

Baumgartner, Frank and Bryan D. Jones. 1993. Agendas and Instability in American Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cohen, Jeffrey E. 1995. “Presidential Rhetoric and the Public Agenda.” American Journal of Political Science 39: 87-107.

Cohen, Jeffrey E.2008. The Presidency in an Era of 24-Hour News. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Cohen, Jeffrey E. 2010. Going Local: Presidential Leadership in the Post-Broadcast Age. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Edwards, George C., III. 2003. On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Edwards, George C., III. 2009. The Strategic President: Persuasion and Opportunity in Presidential Leadership. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Edwards, George C., III. 2010. “Barack Obama’s Leadership of the Public.” Paper presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Meetings, Chicago, IL, April, 2010.

Edwards, George C., III. 2012. Overreach: Leadership in the Obama Presidency. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Edwards, George C., III, and Andrew W. Barrett. 2000. “Presidential Agenda Setting in Congress.” In Polarized Politics: Congress and the President in a Partisan Era, ed. Jon R. Bond and Richard Fleisher. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 109-33.

Edwards, George C., III, and B. Dan Wood. 1999. “Who Influences Whom? The President, Congress, and the Media.” American Political Science Review 93: 327-44.

Eshbaugh-Soha, Matthew. 2006. “The Conditioning Effects of Policy Salience and Complexity on American Political Institutions.” Policy Studies Journal 34: 223-43.

Eshbaugh-Soha, Matthew, and Jeffrey S. Peake. 2005. “Presidents and the Economic Agenda.” Political Research Quarterly: 127-38.

Eshbaugh-Soha, Matthew, and Jeffrey S. Peake. 2008. “The Presidency and Local Media: Local Newspaper Coverage of President George W. Bush.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 38: 606-27.

Eshbaugh-Soha, Matthew, and Jeffrey S. Peake. 2011. Breaking through the Noise: Presidential Leadership, Public Opinion, and the News Media. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Granger, Clive W. J. 1969. “Investigating Causal Relations by Econometric Models and Cross-Spectral Models.” Econometrica 37: 424-38.

Iyengar, Shanto. 1991. Is Anyone Responsible? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jones, Bryan D., and Frank Baumgartner. 2005. The Politics of Attention: How Government Prioritizes Problems. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kingdon, John W. 1995. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd ed. Boston: Little, Brown.

Kumar, Martha Joynt. 2007. Managing the President’s Message: The White House Communications Operation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Liu, Xinsheng, Eric Lindquist, and Arnold Vedlitz. 2011. “Explaining Media and Congressional Attention to Global Climate Change, 1969-2005: An Empirical Test of Agenda-Setting Theory.” Political Research Quarterly 64: 405-19.

Maltese, John Anthony. 1994. Spin Control: The White House Office of Communications and Management of Presidential News. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

McCombs, Maxwell E. 2004. Setting the Agenda: Mass Media and Public Opinion. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Peake, Jeffrey S., and Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha. 2008. “The Agenda-Setting Impact of Major Presidential TV Addresses.” Political Communication 25: 113-37.

Rottinghaus, Brandon. 2010. The Provisional Pulpit: Modern Presidential Leadership of Public Opinion. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press.

Rutledge, Paul E., and Heather A. Larsen Price. 2014. “The President as Agenda Setter-in-Chief The Dynamics of Congressional and Presidential Agenda Setting.” Policy Studies Journal 42 (3): 443-63

Schattschneider, E. E. 1960. The Semi-Sovereign People. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Simms, Christopher A. 1980. “Macroeconomics and Reality.” Econometrica 48: 1-48.

Soroka, Stuart N. 2002. Agenda-Setting Dynamics in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Wood, B. Dan. 2007. The Politics of Economic Leadership. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wood, B. Dan, and Jeffrey S. Peake. 1998. “The Dynamics of Foreign Policy Agenda Setting.” American Political Science Review 92: 173-84.

Young, Garry, and William B. Perkins. 2005. “Presidential Rhetoric, the Public Agenda, and the End of Presidential Television’s ‘Golden Age.’” Journal of Politics 67: 1190-205.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2017 Jeffrey S. Peake

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.