A Content Analysis of Charismatic Rhetoric During the 2016 Presidential Election Campaign Cycle

Sharon Heilmann, Rachel Seitz


The 2016 presidential election provided a timely opportunity to study the relationship between gender and charismatic rhetoric. Using content analysis to evaluate campaign speeches and debates delivered by Hillary Clinton (n=40) and Donald Trump (n=56) in post-party conventions and pre-election speeches during the 2016 presidential election cycle, we focused on the charismatic rhetoric constructs that are stereotypically communal, agentic and neutral. Overall, results indicated that the female candidate, Hillary Clinton, was more likely to use the communal constructs of similarity to followers’ (MD=27.00) and followers’ worth (MD=305.11). Whereas the male candidate, Donald Trump, was more likely to be associated with the agentic construct of action (MD=73.71). It was noted that both candidates used significantly more language relating to communal constructs than both agentic and neutral. The research helped to provide a better understanding of the theoretical framework of gender and charisma and also provided a practical understanding of how men and women can, should, and could communicate differently in elections. A shift from using words focusing on self (I, me, my) towards words focusing on community (us, we, our) might be useful for all candidates.

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