Race in the War on Drugs: The Social Consequences of Presidential Rhetoric

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Our paper “Race in the War on Drugs The Social Consequences of Presidential Rhetoric” can be found on SSRN. It was presented at the Conference on Empirical Legal Studies and published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. The abstract is available below the fold. ABSTRACT: One of the president’s main leadership tools for influencing the direction of American legal policy is public rhetoric. Numerous studies have examined the president’s use of the “bully pulpit” to lead policy by influencing Congress or public opinion, or by changing the behavior of public agencies. We argue that the president can use rhetoric to change the behavior of public agencies and that this can have important social consequences. We focus on the disproportionate impact of presidential rhetoric on different “target populations” in the context of the War on Drugs. Specifically, we observe that presidential rhetoric had a greater impact on state arrest rates for African Americans than for whites, even when controlling for alternative explanations. These findings suggest that presidential rhetoric is filtered through social constructions of public policy problems when public officials act upon them.

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