The degree to which President Biden can sell his agenda to the American public may be the single most important factor in driving the politics of the coming years. Many analysts have compared President Joe Biden’s legislative plans for America to the Great Society program of President Lyndon Johnson — widely regarded as the most ambitious set of social investments in American history. With the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and Joe Biden’s signature social investment program, the Build Back Better agenda, waiting in the on-deck circle, it appears that President Biden is on track to make that comparison very real. But will the public end up supporting these achievements, and will they reward Democrats politically for them? After all, don’t parties in power use their position, especially the position of the President, to sell their ideas to the public and then reap the rewards by touting their achievements?
The answer is no. In fact, we may be thinking about how this works all wrong. Dr. George Edwards is a Distinguished Professor and the Jordan Chair in Presidential Studies at Texas A & M University, and he has analyzed hundreds of public opinion polls. He finds that actually, Presidents are usually unsuccessful at wielding the so-called bully pulpit. They are frequently unable to move public opinion at all.