Gary C. Jacobson


On his book Presidents and Parties in the Public Mind

Cover Interview of March 20, 2019


The central implications of my research are inherent in the findings themselves: Whether intentional or not, a president’s words and actions profoundly affect how the public regards his party on virtually every dimension (and, if only by contrast, the rival party as well). Presidents who govern well (as the public sees it) benefit their parties—and therefore themselves if they care about reelection or historical reputation—which is a good thing insofar as it gives them an incentive to govern well. Presidents who do not govern successfully or who otherwise manage to alienate large portions of the public weaken their parties at least temporarily and potentially long after they are gone. This puts their fellow partisans in something of a quandary: They have every reason to help their president enhance his public standing if they can, and panning his words and actions will not help. But individual and collective affirmation of an unpopular president may compromise their own and their party’s political futures. Watching this quandary play out in real time is fascinating and, at times, more than a little unnerving.