Survival of the Fittest: Rhetoric During the Course of an Election Campaign

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Abstract

Despite the tradition of studying campaign effects, we know little about the rhetorical strategies of candidates. This study speculates about the types of appeals that incumbents and challengers find most effective and that are, as a result, most likely to dominate an election campaign. Candidates have an incentive to use arguments that evoke emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger. Emotional appeals allow candidates to emphasize consensual values, which makes it easier to mobilize their party's base while simultaneously attracting the support of the uncommitted. The use of emotional appeals is also consistent with the media's preference for drama and excitement in news reporting. Thus, emotional appeals will be more enduring than other types of appeals, and hence more likely to dominate the rhetorical landscape. A content analysis of newspaper coverage of the 1988 Canadian federal election campaign provides suggestive evidence in favor of this view.

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