Prof: President's use of Bin Laden anniversary sets campaign tone

May 4, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - President Barack Obama, like his presidential predecessors, is making the best use of the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan and mark the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden's death while reshaping public perception about the Republican Party's leadership in foreign policy, says a Purdue University public opinion expert.

"Going into the campaign season, there are certain expectations - really stereotypes - about which party serves one area, such as foreign affairs or social issues, better than the other," says James McCann, a professor of political science who studies voter behavior and public opinion.

For example, going back to the Vietnam years, public perception is that the Republican Party is more prudent about foreign policy and the Democratic Party has an inherent advantage on social issues, McCann says.

"Right now there is a dance between the media and both parties to see what issues will creep to the top of the agenda," he says. "By highlighting Obama in this foreign policy role, the strategy is to take away the advantage that the Republicans might naturally have because it cuts against the stereotype. Obama is making best use of the opportunity, similar to his predecessors."

McCann also says that Obama has made active use of presidential travel, which falls in line with his predecessors' use of photo opportunities and travel, such as going to Afghanistan to commemorate the first year anniversary of Bin Laden's death.

McCann, who has studied first-term presidential domestic travel from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush, says that almost all presidents since Ronald Reagan have used presidential trips to their advantage for re-election campaigning. Former President George H.W. Bush did not consider this strategy as much when scheduling trips during his first term, McCann says.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: James McCann, 765-494-0738, mccannj@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: James McCann is a co-author of the 2009 article "Presidential Travel from Eisenhower to George W. Bush: An 'Electoral College Strategy'" that was published in Political Science Quarterly. Journalists interested in a copy of the article can contact Amy Patterson Neubert, Purdue News Service, at 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu