Richard Brody, leader in the fields of political persuasion and public opinion in politics, dies at 90

A leader in the field of political science, Brody was known for his work in the areas of public opinion and voting behavior.

Richard A. Brody, a leader in the modern study of public opinion and politics, died May 11. He was 90.

Brody, professor emeritus of political science, in Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, pioneered the analysis of policy voting, contributing methodological innovations to the field that examines how and when voters act in accord with their policy preferences.

Richard A. Brody (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

“He was one of the leading scholars of public opinion and voting behavior,” said Judith Goldstein, the Janet M. Peck Professor of International Communication and chair of the Department of Political Science. “The measures of policy preferences he invented are still in use 50 years later.”

Another area where Brody made a significant contribution was in providing scholarship to better understand the “rally around the flag” effect, which often gives U.S. presidents a bump in popularity during an international crisis. In his book Assessing the President: The Media, Elite Opinion and Public Support (Stanford University Press, 1991), Brody tied public support for a president to the success or failure of policies that were brought to the attention of the public by the media. Foreshadowing current political issues, the book explains how the news media shaped popular support of presidents from Eisenhower through Reagan.

“Dick showed that in times of crisis voters came around to support the president even if the policy was, like the Bay of Pigs in 1961, a failure,” said David Brady, professor of political science and the Davies Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. “Dick showed that the bump or rally came from partisans of the party opposite the president and from Independents. He also showed how and under what conditions the rally would fade.”

Brody also was a leader and creator of the field of political persuasion, which investigates when people’s attitudes can be swayed and when they cannot. “This work was and is crucial to today’s political science and without Dick’s insight and perseverance the field would be the poorer,” Brady said.

During his more than 30-year career at Stanford, Brody received numerous honors including election to both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was the author or co-author of six books. Reasoning and Choice: Explorations in Political Psychology (Cambridge University Press, 1991), which he co-authored, won the Woodrow Wilson Prize for Best book on Government, Politics or International Affairs for 1991.

Fostering curiosity

After beginning his career as a specialist in international relations, Brody soon pivoted to become a leader in the fields of U.S. foreign policy, public opinion and politics. Along the way, he twice served as chair of Stanford’s Political Science Department.

Brody’s love of life and generosity of spirit extended to colleagues, friends and the many graduate students he mentored. “Graduate students and assistant professors he mentored have subsequently become national leaders in their fields of research. By their work, they honor him,” said Paul Sniderman, the Fairleigh S. Dickinson Jr. Professor in Public Policy in Stanford’s Political Science Department.

“He was a patient and thoughtful teacher who exhibited what I thought, and still think, is a wonderful attribute for a political scientist – deep curiosity about the political world,” said John Ferejohn, a former student of Brody’s who is the Samuel Tilden Professor of Law at New York University Law School. “This curiosity led him to seek answers to some enduring questions in political behavior and public opinion. Dick followed his nose, and the students he attracted learned to do that too.”

From NYC to the Bay

Brody spent his early years in New York City and briefly in England. In his teens, he moved to San Francisco and graduated from Galileo High School, maintaining close friendships with fellow classmates from Galileo throughout his life.

During the Korean War, Brody served stateside in the U.S. Army and then graduated from San Francisco State University. He went on to earn his doctorate from Northwestern University and was hired at Stanford in 1962.

Brody exhibited a “fundamental decency and cheeriness,” said his son David Zink-Brody. “He cared about people and the planet, and was on the board of directors of the Cardiac Therapy Foundation in Palo Alto, where he was involved for approximately 20 years.” He also was a broad supporter of the performing arts.

Brody passed away at his home in Palo Alto. He is survived by his wife, Marjorie, three sons and two grandsons.

Media Contacts

Joy Leighton, Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences: [email protected]