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Two Reagans? Genre Imperatives, Ghostwriters, and Presidential Personality Profiling

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Attempts to gauge presidential personality on the basis of speeches and other public statements are subject to several potential validity threats. This paper presents a test of the genre imperative of the tendency to make the president sound “presidential,” in combination with the fact that most presidential addresses are drafted by ghostwriters. The test involves comparing the “activity” and “positivity” levels of 235 syndicated radio commentaries that Ronald Reagan wrote and delivered during the years immediately before he became president and 299 weekly radio addresses that he delivered while he was president. The two Reagans were by no means fundamentally different, but the differences between them nonetheless sound a note of caution about basing personality assessments on presidents’ public statements.
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Keywords: Ronald Reagan; activity; content analysis; personality assessment; positivity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: George Washington University

Publication date: December 1, 2002

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