In the Washington Post, I recently discussed what we know about public opinion and “follow-the-leader” behavior from a lot of academic work and examples throughout the Trump era. Find the article here.
Edit 9/12/20: There were a few other nice examples of follow-the-leader behavior that didn’t make it into my article — I’ll list them below:
- In 1976, with unemployment at nearly 8 percent, Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter and Republican candidate Gerald Ford squared off over the merits of public works projects to revamp the economy. As Carter promoted such policies — which had become part of the governmental toolkit since the New Deal — Ford opposed them. After the issue became increasingly prominent, voters on both sides brought their opinions in line with their leaders’, even on an issue that sat squarely in the political eye since the New Deal era. For example, relative to the strongest Ford supporters, the staunchest Carter backers were about 40 percentage points more likely to shift in support of the government directly providing jobs (though this change concentrated among voters who had only just became aware of the candidates’ positions).
- After Bush opposed expansion of a children’s health care program in July of 2008, Bush supporters became much more opposed to the policy once they became aware of their leader’s position.
- A similar dynamic occurred in the 1986 Dutch election, where the Chernobyl nuclear accident catapulted existing debates over expansion of nuclear power in The Netherlands to the forefront of the election. Two Dutch parties continued to favor expansion while two others opposed it, and once again, supporters of parties on each side of the aisle updated their opinions on nuclear expansion accordingly.
- Policy opinions are the typical objects of interest when judging a leader’s persuasion ability. But that doesn’t mean its reach stops there. As more recent work has started to show, the scope of leader sway also extends to the realms of misinformation. For example, when partisan elites in Denmark suddenly began portraying their country’s public budget deficit in dire terms, co-partisans in the public started viewing the budget as problematic themselves. Follow-the-leader patterns appear for non-political matters too, such as views toward consumer brands (recall Trump’s attacks of Nike and Macy’s) and sports leagues.