Place Names as Strategic Political Communication: Analysis of Geographic Language in US Presidential Debates, 1976–2012
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Televised debates between presidential candidates are expected every 4 years by the U.S. electorate. While it is arguable whether such events are truly debates, millions of potential voters watch them and they can make a significant difference in the outcome of close elections. Further, it is well established that debates play an important role in the democratic process by educating potential voters about their choice of candidates. The purpose of this chapter is to analyze the use of geographic language by presidential candidates during debates. We argue that geographic place names may be deployed as a form of strategic political discourse that communicates a specifically cultivated message about candidates to audiences. For example, candidates may use more foreign place references to emphasize their foreign relations experience, particularly incumbents running for a second term. On the other hand, candidates with limited foreign relations experience may utilize domestic references to tout their knowledge of domestic policy. Another important use of domestic place references is related to the manipulation of perception among selected portions of the electorate. Because of the U.S. Electoral College, swing states are strategically important for winning office. By referencing locations in swing states, candidates try to communicate that they empathize with citizen desires in these strategically important places.
KeywordsPresidential debates Place names Political geography Strategic political communication
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