Obama's Sunday Talk Show Healthcare Blunder

Obama's taking his case to the tube on Sunday. Bad idea.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

President Obama is reportedly planning a five-show Sunday sprint this weekend as part of his renewed healthcare push. But that is exactly the wrong thing to do, according to a recent study by a political scientist at the University of Houston. Brandon Rottinghaus looked at the effectiveness of three different presidential communications strategies: traveling around the country making their case, giving nationally-broadcast speeches or having press conferences.

Rottinghaus concludes that "televised interactions with the media always negatively affect leadership success." (h/t pollster.com) He's talking about televised press conferences, but the same principles apply to a one-on-one interview (or five of them) as a controlled mob scene. The reason is that during such press events, the president's message is challenged and probed, whereas in a speech the president's message is unchallenged. (Mostly.)

It turns out that nationally televised speeches are "the most consistently effective strategy" for presidential leadership, though the effect was more pronounced for earlier presidents—Eisenhower through Ford—than for later ones. (And in fact USA Today reported yesterday that Obama's healthcare speech last week had no effect on public opinion, while Rasmussen released a poll yesterday showing that the bump they had seen has dissipated.) Rottinghaus suggests this is because the more recent presidents face "a more crowded message environment," which I think makes sense but I would add that a president being on TV was simply a bigger deal back in the day because it happened less and the medium was still relatively new.

All of this adds to the ongoing debate about whether the president is too overexposed or (as I argue in my column this week) that he is relying too much on his gift of gab to accomplish his political goals. I wonder if any of the Sunday talkers will ask Obama if he's getting out too much?

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