Featured Author: Gary C. Jacobson

PSQ prides itself on publishing scholarship created by the best and brightest in their respective fields. To highlight some of these exciting contributors and provide an in-depth look at the broader work our authors do, we bring you our Featured Author interview series.


Gary-1Our March 2015 featured author is Gary C. Jacobson, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. He specializes in the study of U.S. elections, parties, interest groups, public opinion, and Congress. His most recent book is A Divider, Not a Uniter:  George W. Bush and the American People.

To contact Professor Jacobson or find out more about his work, visit his faculty webpage or email him at gjacobso@ucsd.edu.

Q: What initially sparked your interest in the study of the president and the shaping of his party’s reputation?

A: A couple of years into George W. Bush’s first term, I was plowing through reams of survey data while trying to figure out why partisan differences in popular ratings of his job performance were so much more divergent than for previous presidents.  In the process, I came across a variety of survey questions gauging public attitudes toward the parties that had been asked repeatedly in surveys over many years.  It occurred to me that people’s experiences with a president and his administration ought to influence how they perceive and evaluate his party, and in one question series after another I kept finding that this was indeed the case.

Q: What are the key questions in the study of the president and his party’s effectiveness?

A: The key questions are always the ones not yet adequately answered:

How durable are the effects of presidents on their party’s reputation and standing with the public?  Some effects seem immediate but ephemeral; others are more gradual but seem to last for generations.  What accounts for their varying durability?

How does a president’s influence emerge over time?  Opinions of the parties strongly affect people’s initial reactions to prospective presidential candidates when they first reach public attention, and the parties define themselves in part by their presidential nominees.  During their initial campaigns and afterward, in office, presidents begin redefining their parties.  How does this process of updating work?

What explains the variation across administrations in the strength of presidential influence on perceptions of his Party?  Why are some presidents more influential than others?

Under what conditions do presidents influence popular views of the rival party?

Q: What kind of response do you hope your work elicits from your readers? 

A: First, I want them to find the empirical results as fascinating as I do and to appreciate their uncommon breadth and consistency.  Second, I’d like to inspire additional work examining how presidents affect views of their parties (and the rival party), both theoretical and empirical (including experiments as well as observational research).  Third, I’d like to generate interest in exploring the wide variety of public opinion time series now available to address other questions related to U.S. parties and leaders.  And fourth, I’d like to encourage research on comparable party-leader relationships in other democracies.