Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Short Note | Open Access

Assessing the Relationship between Presidential Rhetorical Simplicity and Unilateral Action

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Abstract:  Research from Shogan (2007) and Lim (2008) on the executive branch proposes that the American presidency has adopted an anti-intellectual approach to leadership, such that there is a concerted rejection of thoughtful political discourse from the president. This has been reflected by what appears to be a relative decline in both the linguistic and substantive complexity of presidential rhetoric. Shogan’s (2007) work, while focused on examining whether Republicans are more apt to employ anti-intellectual leadership than Democrats, raises an additional topic worthy of empirical examination: the potential relationship between anti-intellectual leadership and unilateral action from the president. If anti-intellectual leadership is a defiant form of leadership that opts to publicly demonstrate the rejection of external expertise, the usage of anti-intellectual rhetoric from the president might be able to predict the usage of unilateral action. On the other hand, anti-intellectual rhetoric might be used as a straightforward and quick means to explain unilateral action, such that change in the level of unilateral action can predict the usage of simplistic rhetoric. Unfortunately, no one has yet to empirically test whether rhetorical simplicity predicts unilateral action, unilateral action predicts rhetorical simplicity, or there is a multi-directional relationship present. This project makes an initial attempt to remedy this gap in the literature. The project contrasts the monthly average simplicity level of the presidential weekly public address with the monthly number of executive orders emanating from the executive branch, using information spanning between February 1993 and May 2015. The initial findings from the vector autoregression and moving average representation analyses suggest that prior change in rhetorical simplicity predicts the usage of executive orders, and that an increase in rhetorical simplicity helps produce an increase in the number of executive orders offered by the president.

Keywords:  anti-intellectualism; Flesch readability; political communication; presidential rhetoric; rhetorical simplicity; unilateral action



© Christopher Olds. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.