Constructing the Electorate during Presidential Campaigns



This study examines how the American electorate has been described by political campaigners between 1948 and 1996. Using a database of some five hundred speeches given on the stump or during national political broadcasts, the authors isolated 898 uses of the phrase “the American people.” By examining these phrases for descriptions of the roles, actions, qualities, and circumstances of the people, and by noting their time orientation and the forces aligned against the electorate, the authors present a picture of the people as described. Generally speaking, the people live in the moment, focus on cognitive and axiological matters, serve as agents of the state, and have an equal number of moral, intellectual, and psychological strengths. The texts also show that the people are bedeviled by government itself, but a number of factors—party, era, incumbency, campaign cycle, and so forth—affect the tenor of those characterizations.