Political Communication in American Campaigns

Article excerpt

* Political Communication in American Campaigns. Joseph S. Turnan. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2008. 304 pp. $44.95 pbk.

In the aftermath of the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Joseph S. Turnan offers a timely reminder that partisanship, the state of the economy, and other wellknown determinants of vote choice are only part of the story. Carefully crafted campaign messages embedded into candidate speeches, advertisements, interviews, and debates also influence voter behavior. Tuman's objective in Political Communication in American Campaigns is to equip readers with the analytical tools needed to dissect this rhetoric and comprehend its impact on the electorate. This is a lofty goal, and while his clear prose and close scrutiny of prominent political campaigns bring him near this pinnacle, I am unsure about the reliability of his measures.

Tuman's central claim, outlined in chapter 1, is that political communication and elections in the United States are intertwined. Candidate remarks are not off-thecuff, whether during the election season or otherwise. Politicians, instead, tailor their statements to a particular audience, employing an array of rhetorical strategies that are designed to increase their appeal. They may, for instance, compare themselves to historical figures, place their accomplishments above those of their rivals, or make themselves out to be "regular" people. Their hope is that these messages will resonate with voters and result in electoral success.

This argument is, of course, a familiar refrain in the social sciences. What sets this work apart is that most of Tuman's book is a how-to guide for understanding candidate communication. The devices politicians use to sway voters, such as prolepsis and praeteritio, are discussed at length, and Turnan deftly shows how different approaches are best used in varying contexts. More than this, the author also pinpoints where these strategies appeared in famous campaigns, describing how they led voters to internalize certain ideas. Tuman's examination of John McCain's 2004 keynote address to the Republican National Convention, quoted in full in the book, illuminates how, with one speech, politicians can simultaneously establish a national agenda, defend current policies (e.g., the War on Terror), and unite disparate (even hostile) groups of voters.

It is, in fact, this coupling of theoretical discussion with evaluation of contemporary events that makes Political Communication in American Campaigns such an intriguing read. Turnan, a professor at San Francisco State University, provides readers with more than a theory of political communication and electoral processes; he encourages them to reflect on how they, too, have been persuaded by a recent political candidate, perhaps into taking one position on an issue over another. …