Politics or Policy? How Rhetoric Matters to Presidential Leadership of Congress

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In this article, we examine the linkage between presidential policy proposal messages and legislative success. Employing a data set on presidential legislative proposals that covers the years 1949-2010, we find that politics matters less than policy. Purely political messages that reference the electoral logic of mandates or appeal to a sense of bipartisanship appear to have no impact on presidential legislative success, nor does policy signaling, though highlighting the role of agency-based policy experts in crafting legislation does. From these results, we conclude that although the way presidents communicate their messages to Congress represents an important component of presidential-legislative relations, it is instead the perceived quality of the legislation that more strongly shapes congressional support of presidential policy efforts.