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Red, white and blue rhetoric: invoking the 'American people'

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Recent polling shows voters are pretty well fed up with Washington, D.C.’s elected leaders. But despite the animosity, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have no qualms speaking on behalf of “the American people.” Presuming to know what Americans want has been a particularly nervy tactic following the recent partial government shutdown and near default on U.S. debt and the resulting drop in approval ratings. Use of the phrase peaked during that tumultuous stretch.

From Oct. 2, 2012 to Oct. 15, 2013, Obama was quoted invoking the phrase 712 times in a national media sample, according to an analysis by News Imaging Inc., a media behavior analysis firm that tracks utterances in the media. The president’s approval rating averaged 44.5 percent in the most recent quarter, according to a recent Gallup poll, a 3 point decline from the previous three-month span. Meanwhile, in that same sample Boehner was quoted using the “American people” ploy 305 times over the same period, despite the fact that according to a recent CNN poll, six in 10 Americans would like to see him replaced as Speaker.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, is either quoted less or simply isn’t as enamored with the phrase, having only uttered it 38 times.

John Dunbar


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