I Beg to Differ:Understanding Disagreement, Agreement, and Emotional Appeals in Gubernatorial Campaign Communication

Anne-Bennett Smithson

Major Professor: Emily K. Vraga, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Katherine Rowan, Xiaoquan Zhao

Johnson Center, Gold Room
April 19, 2017, 12:30 PM to 09:00 AM


Throughout 2016, the public saw an election season marked by unpredictability, heated disagreement, and use of emotional language designed to capture the attention of voters. In this study, I explored gubernatorial candidates’ presentation of disagreement, agreement, and emotional appeals to frame their messages during the 2016 primary and general election periods. Using content analysis, I explored 7,111 tweets made by gubernatorial candidates to understand the manner in which candidates craft their image as they separate themselves from some ideas/people/groups and align themselves with others. I also explore candidates’ use of emotional appeals to understand how and whether different types of candidates may be more likely to use different emotional cues based on a range of factors including party affiliation and incumbency status. My findings complicate the construct of political disagreement itself, as my research uncovered that disagreement presented by candidates can take multiple forms (e.g. same party, opposing party, Washington insiders).  It also helps explain when and how candidates use emotional appeals to frame their messages, even in a truncated and text-heavy medium like Twitter. Perhaps most importantly, this research contributes to an understanding of how open race candidates fit within the overall landscape picture of candidate communication, demonstrating that such candidates have unique communication styles and, overall, communicate differently with voters than incumbents and challengers on a wide range of factors. This framework can be used to study candidate communication on social networking sites like Twitter as such interactive media become even more important for political campaigns. 

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