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Campaign Talk:
Why Elections Are Good for Us
Roderick P. Hart

Winner of the 2009 Doris Graber Book Award, Section on Political Communication of the American Political Science Association
Winner of the 2000 Murray Edelman Distinguished Career Award, American Political Science Association

Paperback | 2002 | $46.00 | £38.95 | ISBN: 9780691092829
328 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 20 line illustrations, 11 tables
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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.


"This upbeat assessment is founded on a careful look at language. . . . Readers may not be ready to embrace electoral politics as a national treasure, but Hart's suggestion that at least something positive can be gleaned from the campaign trail is reassuring."--Publishers Weekly

"Campaign Talk should be required reading for politicians and their speechwriters. However, it is also for political campaign workers who talk about "staying on the message" and really for anyone who need to be reminded that democracy is not for the complacent but rather it is a dirty-your-fingernails process that anyone can, and should, dive into."--David Kissinger, San Franciso Bay Guardian

"Hart is to be complimented for what is . . . a brave premise and encouraging analysis. . . . [He] has written a useful and impressive book."--Lane Crothers, Quarterly Journal of Speech

"For those cynical and pessimistic about American political campaigns, this book may be an appropriate antidote. . . . The sophisticated research methodology does not detract from the readable text."--Library Journal

"In [his] fascinating new book . . . Roderick Hart uses a computer to analyze the language of candidates to see how their vocabularies work. Specifically, [he] shows how a candidate is or is not in touch with his times."--Suzanne Fields, Washington Times

"The book to buy for the Rodney Dangerfield campaign operative in your life, sure to buck him up on those long bus rides."--Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Hart forces us to rethink some cliches of political kibitzing. . . . Campaigns teach, sensitize, and activate the people as they preach to them."--Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer

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Table of Contents:

List of Figures ix
List of Tables xi
Preface xiii
CHAPTER 1 Campaign Questions 3
CHAPTER 2 Campaign Language 23
CHAPTER 3 Campaign Evolution 46
CHAPTER 4 Campaign Functions 75
CHAPTER 5 Campaign Forums 103
CHAPTER 6 The Political Voice 140
CHAPTER 7 The Media's Voice 169
CHAPTER 8 The People's Voice 199
CHAPTER 9 Campaign Reflections 226
APPENDIX 1 DICTION: The Text Analysis Program 245
APPENDIX 2 Statistical Notes 253
APPENDIX 3 Sampling Details 263
Notes 269
Index 299

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