Presidential communication from Washington to Trump

Presidential communication from Washington to Trump

Anne Pluta, associate professor of political science, is the founding director of Rowan University's Center for Social Science Research.

As technology evolved throughout history, U.S. presidents have implemented many methods to communicate with the public.

Anne Pluta, Ph.D.

Political scientist

Areas of expertise:

American political institutions, American political development

More information

“Technology and the structure of institutions like political parties and the media provide presidents with incentives to communicate in certain ways,” said Dr. Anne Pluta, associate professor of political science in Rowan University’s College of Humanities & Social Sciences and author of “Persuading the Public: The Evolution of Popular Presidential Communication from Washington to Trump” (University Press of Kansas, 2023).

Advances in transportation impacted face-to-face messaging, according to Pluta. “Train travel changed the number of people that presidents could see in a day,” Pluta said. Air travel extended their reach much more.

As technology developed, the nexus of opportunity and skill was key. “For instance, Coolidge effectively used the radio, but it was very immature when he was president so he couldn’t leverage it the way Franklin Delano Roosevelt could,” she said.

Media practices also evolved. Nineteenth-century newspapers were not objective and reflected the perspectives of particular parties.

However, “in the 50s, 60s and 70s, it looked like presidents could be more persuasive from the bully pulpit because they had a national audience. You had national media with high barriers to entry, so people were getting the same message from everywhere,” Pluta said.

“Now you can get many different messages from what the president just said,” she continued.

Opportunities guide how presidents communicate. Everyone is not persuadable, Pluta said. “Now the president has to focus his efforts on his base because they are the only people he’s going to be able to rally,” she said. “You’re not going to get people from the other side.”

Pluta continues to research the presidency for her next book, focusing on how gender and women’s issues have shaped administrations and policies since the Civil War.

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