Hager and Sullivan (1994), “President-centered and Presidency-centered Explanations of Presidential Public Activity,” Am. J. of Poli. Sci., Vol. 38, No. 4, 1079-1103.
What is more important for understanding the public appearances of US Presidents: characteristics of the president or constraints of the office (the presidency)? They analyze three different models in each category. Presidents could be dummy variables (Reagan is Reagan is Reagan); they could be positive/negative about themselves and active/passive about their office duties; or they could be insiders or outsiders to the Washington processes. To the extent that the electorate expects presidents to be involved in more and more decisions, however, presidents have less free time to allocate to individually preferred activities. They focus on economic challenges, bureaucracy growth, bargaining with Congress, the election cycle, and international diplomacy (as the nation’s “chief diplomat”) as institutional constraints. Technological innovation may affect all of these models.
They find that President speeches to specific forums (minor speeches), press conferences, and appearances as head of state are explained at least as well by presidency-centered explanations as president-centered, and sometimes better. Technological progress is largely to blame for decreased press conferences because presidents have more available options for getting their message out and, even when the press is not overtly hostile, no president manages to spend more than 15% of a press conference discussing his targeted topics.
The best model was presidency-centered, but included interactions for being an outsider, which increases the costs of bargaining with Congress. They conclude that, while individual factors are likely still relevant, contextual and institutional factors should not be ignored in understanding a president’s actions.