A Functional Analysis of 2008 U.S. Presidential Primary Debates

By Benoit, William L.; Henson, Jayne R. et al. | Argumentation and Advocacy, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

A Functional Analysis of 2008 U.S. Presidential Primary Debates


Benoit, William L., Henson, Jayne R., Sudbrock, Leigh Anne, Argumentation and Advocacy


Presidential primary debates have been employed to help inform voters in the United States since 1948, when Dewey and Stassen participated in a debate on radio during the Oregon Republican primary campaign. In recent years, primary debates have been much more common than debates in the general election campaign. In 2004, for instance, there were 21 primary, three presidential, and one vice presidential debates in the campaign (Benoit et al., 2007). Various studies have found that voters can be influenced by watching presidential primary debates (Benoit, McKinney, & Stephenson, 2002; Benoit & Stephenson, 2004; Lemert, Elliot, Nesvoldet, & Rarick, 1987; Pfau, 1984, 1987, 1988; Wall, Golden, & James, 1988; Yawn, Ellsworth, Beatty, & Kahn, 1998). Meta-analysis has established that primary debates can increase issue knowledge, affect perceptions of candidate character, and change vote choice (Benoit, Hansen, & Verser, 2003); these effects are even larger in primary than general debates, probably because voters have less knowledge, fewer character perceptions, and weaker commitment to vote choice earlier than later in the campaign. Data from the 2008 campaign indicates that 24 of the Democratic and Republican primary debates attracted 90 million viewers (Kurtz, 2008; Memmott & Carnia, 2007; Page, 2008). Clearly, presidential primary debates merit scholarly attention.

The 2008 U.S. presidential campaign is particularly noteworthy for two reasons. First, 2008 was the only open campaign in recent memory. Not since 1952, when General Dwight Eisenhower faced Governor Adlai Stevenson, had a U.S. presidential campaign not included either a sitting president or vice president. However, in 2008, President George W. Bush was completing his second and final term and Vice President Dick Cheney decided not to run for the top slot. Although some recent campaigns have seen challenges to renomination of the incumbent (e.g., in 1992 Pat Buchanan contested President George H. W. Bush for the Republican nomination and in 2000 Bill Bradley ran against Vice President A1 Gore for the Democratic nomination), the lack of an incumbent makes both primary races competitive and in all likelihood makes campaign messages even more important for voters who have less information about the candidates compared to typical election campaigns.

Furthermore, although the primary campaign commenced earlier than ever before, the Democratic nominee was not decided until much later than usual, with Senator Barack Obama wresting the nomination away from Senator Hillary Clinton in June. This is the first rime a nominee for one of the two major U.S. political parties was not a white male. When Senator John McCain selected Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, it assured that for the first rime in U.S. history the elected President or Vice President would not be a white male. Thus, the debates that led up to this historic election merit scholarly attention.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Relatively few studies have content analyzed U.S. presidential primary debates (for other kinds of research on this message form, see Berquist, 1960; Best & Hubbard, 2000; Blankenship, Fine, & Davis, 1983; Hellweg & Phillips, 1981; Kane, 1987; Ray, 1961; Stelzner, 1971). A study of U.S. presidential primary debates from 1948-2000 offers some insights into the content of these messages (Benoit, Pier, et al., 2002). Acclaims were the most common function of these primary debates (63%), followed by attacks (32%) and defenses (4%). When presidential candidates did attack in primary debates, they were more likely to attack members of their own political party (47%) than candidates in the opposing party (30%) or to attack the status quo (criticisms that include members of both major political parties, 24%). The candidates in primary debates discussed policy (63%) more frequently than character (37%). More of these policy utterances concerned general goals (40%) or past deeds (37%) than future plans (24%). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Functional Analysis of 2008 U.S. Presidential Primary Debates
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.