Verbal Style in Presidential Advertising: Computer Analysis of the 1996 Campaign Spots
R. John Ballotti Jr. Quincy University
Presidential candidates employ various methods to motivate voters to accept their candidacy and vote for them. Of these methods, campaign advertising is the only one under the complete and direct control of the candidates. Through their campaign advertisements, presidential candidates speak directly to the voters, employing whatever style they wish in communicating their ideas and their characters. In so doing, presidential candidates display their verbal styles, providing clues to the underlying motivations and representations that make up their character and their way of presenting themselves to voters.
The verbal style of presidential speech has been analyzed and typologized by Hart ( 1977, 1984, 1987) in his ground-breaking analysis of presidential speeches. Through analysis of hundreds of speeches delivered by presidents from Franklin Roosevelt through the first 2 years of Ronald Reagan's first term, Hart was able to isolate and identify activity, certainty, optimism, and realism as verbal variables present in presidential speech. The identification of these four variables through computerized content analysis of the words used by presidents in their speeches allowed Hart to develop and extract characteristic verbal styles for each president.
However, Hart's analysis applied primarily to speeches made by presidents in office. Despite the significance of political advertising, no previous attempt has been made to identify a verbal style in campaign advertising. It seems likely that the same elements of verbal style identified by Hart--activity, certainty, optimism, and realism--might be present in the political