Can presidential speeches change minds? The evidence suggest not | Pew Research Center

We like to believe that a speech can change the world. And when a U.S. president talks, people do listen. But are they persuaded?

A Pew Research report shows that the “bully pulpit” may be overrated:

Still, we found enough cases to conclude that the speeches don’t seem to do much to move the needle on public opinion or push Congress in the president’s direction. President Ronald Reagan, for instance, was unable to convince even a plurality of Americans that the United States should provide military aid to the Contra rebels fighting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, despite three Oval Office addresses on the issue between March 1986 and February 1988.

via Can presidential speeches change minds? The evidence suggest not | Pew Research Center.


6 thoughts on “Can presidential speeches change minds? The evidence suggest not | Pew Research Center”

  1. It isn’t too surprising that presidential speeches don’t do much to affect public opinion. Personally, I don’t believe they change my view on anything.
    So are Presidential Speeches a waste of time?
    I don’t think so, I think that they are valuable for a few reasons. First, they keep the public informed. Whether you agree or disagree with the president, he is letting you know where we as a nation stand on the executive level. The presidential speeches then keep us connected. Barack Obama is our president, and having him address us formally keeps him in our minds as the nation’s leader at this time. Keeping us informed, then, keeps us unified, even as we all have differing views on problems presidents address us about. So while a president’s address to the nation may not make Americans agree with him more, I believe it is still a useful tool for him to use.

  2. I agree completely with what Kennan said, but I would add one more thing to his list. By addressing the country, the President may not change anyone’s mind. However, his speech may solidify the opinions the nation already has. I know that President Obama did not change my opinion on the issue at hand, however it did make me firmer in that opinion.

  3. As an English major, this makes me quite sad! I believe in the power of rhetoric and persuasion. Although this study seems comprehensive, I would like to believe that words can change the world. While I interned in DC, I had the opportunity to meet with Tomicah Tilleman (he works for the State Department) and he mentioned that they had to write over 200 speeches per a year for Secretary Clinton and that he believed words changed opinions and made ideas into policy. Although this may be idealistic, I hope it is more true than this article indicates.

  4. I think that on some issues it is impossible to sway people, especially if the issues has been around for a while or there has already been several developments, which is most major policy decisions. As the United States’ population becomes more educated and makes their own educated decisions, the harder it is to use emotion to sway the population. I personally think that a reason why Obama was unable to sway people in this instance has to deal with his inability to form his own stance on Syria. The president loss all credibility when he came out adamantly claiming we were going to send air strikes on Syria, and then deciding that he should go to Congress first. While it is sad that speeches are unable to sway us, it shows that as a country we are becoming more educated and firm in our decisions.

  5. I believe in the power of the spoken word. However, presidential speeches are often made in an attempt to quickly sway the public in support of a recently made decision, and time after time this has proven near ineffective. I additionally believe that it will continue to become more ineffective as the United States becomes a more educated people.

  6. We talked a bit about this in my communications class during last years elections. People who listen to these speeches tend to already have an opinion set, and they are only listening to have that opinion reinforced. However, when opinion leaders listen to the speech and broadcast their opinion of it, which can influence people. So maybe the benefit of speeches isn’t for directly influencing others, but for giving knowledge and fuel to opinion leaders to then distribute to others. The People’s Choice, a study conducted in 1944 to understand how media influenced people, is still relevant today in mass media textbooks because of its strong evidence supporting the influence of opinion leaders.

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