How does public opinion affect presidential policymaking? We address this issue by testing a diverse set of hypotheses with data concerning a set of individual policies across time. In particular, the data revolve around presidential budgetary proposals on a set of major policy issues for which there are recurring surveys on citizens’ preferences over spending. The analysis suggests that presidents are more responsive to mass opinion on issues that are familiar to citizens in their everyday lives. Also, for reelection-seeking presidents, responsiveness is shown to depend upon two key political factors. First, presidents are more responsive to public opinion when the next election is imminent. Second, the effect of presidential popularity is nonmonotonic; presidents with average approval ratings are most likely to adopt policy positions congruent with public opinion, whereas presidents with approval ratings that are significantly above or below average have the greatest propensity to take unpopular positions.
Corrected Comparative Statics for Presidential Responsiveness to Public Opinion