Campaign Talk

Campaign Talk: Why Elections Are Good for Us

Roderick P. Hart
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Campaign Talk
    Book Description:

    Roderick Hart may be among the few Americans who believe that what politicians say in a campaign actually matters. He also believes that campaigns work. Even as television coverage, political ads, and opinion polls turn elections into field days for marketing professionals, Hart argues convincingly that campaigns do play their role in sustaining democracy, mainly because they bring about a dialogue among candidates, the press, and the people. Here he takes a close look at the exchange of ideas through language used in campaign speeches, political advertising, public debates, print and broadcast news, and a wide variety of letters to the editor. In each case, the participants choose their words differently, and this, according to Hart, can be a frustrating challenge to anyone trying to make sense of the issues. Yet he finds that the process is good for Americans: campaigns inform us about issues, sensitize us to the concerns of others, and either encourage us to vote or at least heighten our sense of the political world.

    Hart comes to his conclusions by using DICTION, a computer program that has enabled him to unearth substantive data, such as the many subtle shifts found in political language, over the past fifty years. This approach yields a rich variety of insights, including empirically based explanations of impressions created by political candidates. For example, in 1996 Bill Clinton successfully connected with voters by using many human-interest words--"you," "us," "people," "family." Bob Dole, however, alienated the public and even undermined his own claims of optimism by using an abundance of denial words--"can't," "shouldn't," "couldn't." Hart also tracks issue buzzwords such as "Medicare" to show how candidates and voters define and readjust their positions throughout the campaign dialogue.

    In the midst of today's increased media hype surrounding elections, Americans and the candidates they elect do seem to be listening to each other--as much as they did in years gone by. Hart's wide-ranging, objective investigation upends many of our stereotypes about political life and presents a new, more bracing, understanding of contemporary electoral behavior.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2345-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Campaign Questions
    (pp. 3-22)

    The 1996 presidential campaign was hardly galvanizing. The incumbent, William Jefferson Clinton, never really relinquished the double-digit lead he held from early September through election day. The challenger, Bob Dole, ran a campaign as plain as his name and the small Kansas town from which he hailed. Even Ross Perot failed to provide the excitement he had provided in 1992: his running mate was even less distinguished than the one he had picked four years earlier; his advertising was more traditional, as was his campaign financing (to legitimate the Reform Party he accepted matching public funds); and he lobbed fewer...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Campaign Language
    (pp. 23-45)

    The findings reported in this book make little sense unless these data seem important: Bill Clinton referred topeopletwenty-one times during his 1996 convention acceptance address while Bob Dole managed only nine such references. When the high-frequency words in both speeches were compared (that is, words used three or more times), Mr. Clinton’s speech was also found to stressneighborhoods,fellow,children,home, andparentswhile Dole used in-the-beltway terms likeadministration,congress,party,policy,compromise, andunions. Whereas Clinton emphasized time (days,future,tonight,young,century), Dole stressed values:trust,God,heart,right,honor. These data look self-evident:...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Campaign Evolution
    (pp. 46-74)

    National politics in the United States reconstitutes itself every four years. Sometimes dramatically. The Cold War debates between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon now seem, at the dawn of Al Gore’s millennium, positively quaint. With George Bush having been so successful in prosecuting the Gulf War, it is now hard to understand how Jimmy Carter could have lost his job to a mere ayatollah in 1980. Were Lyndon Johnson still among us, he might be surprised that a man from his own party could run for office in 1996 on a platform of entitlement cuts and reduced government spending. Dwight...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Campaign Functions
    (pp. 75-102)

    Elections elect people but what do campaigns do? This question is not completely simpleminded. A presidential campaign is a long, drawn-out affair beginning in the snows of New Hampshire and ending in autumnal splendor. In between, it subjects the American people to smiling candidates and ill-tempered reporters, gaggles of pundits and prognostication, marching bands and fifteen-second spots, an array of twinkling flashbulbs. Even though presidential campaigns are eagerly anticipated for four years at a time, by early November few Americans wish for more politicking. Campaigns come and campaigns go but they never go quickly enough. Yet what do they do?...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Campaign Forums
    (pp. 103-139)

    Every book has a premise and this book is no exception. Its premise is this: A political campaign is an extended conversation. A campaign is other things as well—a mobilization of the electorate, a transfer of political power, an extraordinary expenditure of money—but mostly it helps leaders get to know their constituents and become known by them as well. These re-introductions are necessary because most political leaders live their lives apart from the people they govern. Most of the time, they work as bureaucrats. They answer constituent mail, draft legislation, oversee staff meetings, consult with colleagues, and dine...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Political Voice
    (pp. 140-168)

    When actors become old and tired, they can always play politicians. The scripts for political films are easily mastered and the dramatis personae rarely complicated. Politicians on screen are often morally shallow—such as Bill McKay inThe Candidateor the title character inBob Roberts—when they are not being malign, such as Willie Stark inAll the King’s Menor Lonesome Rhodes inA Face in the Crowd. Whether it is Otto Preminger in the 1960s or Sidney Lumet in the 1980s, Hollywood directors have learned the political routines implicitly. Even when dramatizing admirable characters like Jefferson Smith...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Media’s Voice
    (pp. 169-198)

    The news is a complex thing. In reality, it is not one thing but many things. It is both herald and critic, soothsayer and cultural historian, and its text contains a congeries of voices—baseball players and rock stars, the nation’s leaders, the proverbial person on the street, young celebrities-in-the-making, a great variety of news anchors and beat reporters. Whether or not these voices produce harmony or cacophony remains an open question. With so many organizations now in the news business, with newspapers and magazines doing daily battle, with both of them competing against television, and with all three now...

  13. CHAPTER 8 The People’s Voice
    (pp. 199-225)

    Those in the polling business are fond of saying that any generalization made about the American people is correct. To help produce that effect, a different politico each day launches into some brave declaration with the phrase “the American people demand . . .” and thereby becomes a ventriloquist for the nation. The press, too, conjures up a different electorate with each new headline—“The American people are in a sour mood,” “Americans have become oblivious to market trends,” etc. In being described in these ways, the citizenry is essentially being invented as well. Demographers add to the confusion (or...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Campaign Reflections
    (pp. 226-244)

    It is customary to end a book on political campaigns with an apology for them. Most popular writers, as well as many serious journalists and academicians, come away from campaigns detesting them. They decry the politicians’ manipulativeness, the press’s negativity, the PAC’S ruthlessness, and the citizens’ lethargy and then predict an imminent demise for the Republic. John Quincy Adams predicted these reactions more than two hundred years ago:

    This election of a chief magistrate for the whole Union will never be settled to the satisfaction of the people. The theory of frequent elections is that power cannot be trusted to...

  15. APPENDIX 1 DICTION: The Text-Analysis Program
    (pp. 245-252)
  16. APPENDIX 2 Statistical Notes
    (pp. 253-262)
  17. APPENDIX 3 Sampling Details
    (pp. 263-268)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 269-298)
  19. Index
    (pp. 299-307)