Strong Candidate, Nurturant Candidate: Moral Language in Presidential Television Advertisements

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Abstract

Presidential television advertisements from 1980 through 2012 were examined to test empirically George Lakoff's descriptions of American moral ideology. Advertisements were coded for instantiations of the moral themes that Lakoff asserts underlie liberal and conservative ideology (Strict Father versus Nurturant Parent). Candidates' political-party affiliation, election year, and policy issue(s) addressed in the television advertisement were assessed for their covariance with the use of these moral-metaphorical instantiations. Findings support many of Lakoff's arguments. Republicans and Democrats generally differed in their use of these moral themes, both Strict Father and Nurturant Parent. There were no significant associations between election years (1980–2012) and instantiations of moral metaphors, with the exception of 2008, an anomalous year. Of particular import, we found that although Republicans rely on Strict Father dimensions, and Democrats rely more on Nurturant Parent, the most pronounced difference between parties was on the Nurturant Parent dimension. Implications for Lakoff's work and current moral psychology are discussed.

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