Going Personal: White House Communications Strategy and the President's Spouse
Political scientists have failed to recognize the political importance of the president's spouse. While the evolving role of the first lady over time from White House hostess to presidential advisor has been documented in historical narratives and news articles, the tremendous responsibility placed on her office to communicate the president's message and shape his public image has received little attention. This responsibility has increased markedly in the last three presidential administrations, illustrated by the fact that Michelle Obama made more speeches and major public appearances in her first five years in office than any first lady in history. In addition to demonstrating that presidential spouses are an integral part of White House and campaign communications strategy, this dissertation challenges the popular notion among scholars that communications tactics designed to boost presidential popularity and garner support for the president's policy agenda have a negligible impact on public opinion. Detailed examinations of speech transcripts, elite interviews, and survey experiments inform an assessment of the possibility that presidential spouses are mobilized in a calculated effort to enhance the public reputation of presidents and their policy agendas, and that under some circumstances, these efforts can profoundly influence public opinion at the individual level.