• political communication;
  • political crisis;
  • content analysis;
  • language behavior

This study examines how images of the American electorate were deployed after the 11 September 2001 terrorism incident and during the Clinton impeachment. Transcripts of congressional proceedings, news coverage, and presidential campaign addresses were analyzed to determine how the phrase the American people was used during these two crises and in unrelated presidential campaign speeches. The analysis considered the roles, actions, qualities, and circumstances ascribed to the people, as well as the time orientation and the forces aligned against the people. The results show that (1) relative to presidential campaign rhetoric, both crises resulted in greater concentration on the electorate; (2) the crises differed from one another as well, with the impeachment texts featuring a contentious electorate and the 11 September texts identifying the people’s psychological strengths and anxieties; and (3) both crises were also affected by exogenous factors—partisanship in the case of impeachment, and the passage of time for the terrorism incident.